Could make air easier to breathe for children, unborn

Interim Staff

A tobacco products restriction act introduced by Toronto Senator Stanley Haidasz could play a part in better protecting unborn children from the effects of exposure to tars and nicotine.

Bill S-5 requires cigarettes, cigars and loose tobacco to have a greatly reduced level of contaminants and additives. The bill would also reduce the nicotine content of tobacco products to 0.3 milligrams per gram of tobacco. This is below the 0.4 milligrams level experts say leads to nicotine addiction.

Bill S-5 would also require all promotion and packing of smoking products to bear the warning that smoking causes cancer and that nicotine is addictive.

The bill was adopted at second reading in March and referred to the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology.

Haidasz said the reduced levels outlined in the bill are already met in several “ultra-mild” brands of Canadian cigarettes. He believes these ultra-mild standards, which are less likely to make nicotine addicts of first-time smokers, should become the norm for tobacco manufacturers, importers and distributors.

In arguing for the bill, Haidasz told fellow senators tobacco is as addictive as heroine and cocaine. “How much more serious does it have to be when tobacco smoking is the cause of three times more preventable premature deaths than are caused by the abuse of alcohol, by car accidents, AIDS, fire, murder and suicide combined?” Haidasz said. “The only toll exceeding the avoidable loss of 48,000 Canadian deaths in 1995 is the toll of abortion, which kills more than 100,000 unborn children annually.”

Haidasz also cited the tremendous economic cost of tobacco-related illnesses. He said if tobacco smokers were helped to change their habits, the entire national debt of Canada could be eliminated within a few years. He estimates tobacco-related illness and death cost Canadians as much as $20 billion each year.

Haidasz, a physician for more than 40 years, has long been concerned with the effects of nicotine addiction, particularly on young people. He has also been at the forefront among Canadian legislators seeking legal protection for unborn children.

Haidasz’ motion is supported by a number of studies detailing the negative consequences of tobacco use. More evidence is coming to light about the dangers to unborn children whose mothers smoke during pregnancy. A number of studies, including a report by the Canadian Institute of Child Health (1992), reveal maternal smoking is a major risk factor in low birth weight. The pregnant smoker has about twice the risk than that of a non-smoker in delivering a low birth-weight infant.

Other risks include miscarriage, premature birth, stillbirth or death in the first few weeks. The effects of smoking in pregnancy extend beyond infancy. Several studies have drawn a link between maternal smoking and decreased growth rates and learning ability.

More recent studies show unborn children absorb cancer-causing chemicals from passive cigarette smoke. The level of carcinogens in a newborn’s blood is increased up to five times it the mother is exposed to passive smoke, according to a study at the University of Louisville (Kentucky) School of Medicine. That level increases to 10 or 20 times higher in a baby whose mother smokes during pregnancy. The study found newborns are not protected from toxic tobacco agents by the placenta wall.

Finally, a report from the American Fertility Society reveals that nicotine has a damaging effect on fertility, male and female.

Gary Knight, a spokesman for Senator Haidasz, said Bill S-5 will likely be held up in committee for the next several weeks. He said Sen. Haidasz is prepared to accept a number of amendments to the bill so long as the ultimate effect is to reduce harmful ingredients of tobacco products and to reduce nicotine addiction.

Knight said the bill does not infringe freedom of choice for those who wish to continue smoking. Not only does nicotine addiction preclude free choice, he said, but Bill S-5 aims at limiting nicotine dosages likely to cause addictions in first-time smokers. He said the bill permits sales of very low nicotine and tar cigarettes as well as nicotine therapies which are prescribed for heavy smokers seeking to break the habit.