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Cannabis industry blows smoke at tobacco rules for plain packaging and bans on advertising

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The argument over the nature of marijuana packaging — whether it is plain or not — is heating up.
The argument over the nature of marijuana packaging — whether it is plain or not — is heating up.

VANCOUVER — Garfield Mahood has spent 30 years fighting for the Canadian government to require plain packaging for cigarettes.

So, the long-time non-smokers’ rights activist says he doesn’t have much faith in the government’s ability to regulate and restrict the marketing of marijuana.

“They identified tobacco products as a cause of disease back in the 1950s,” said Mahood, president of the Campaign for Justice on Tobacco Fraud. “They’ve never been able to bring this epidemic close to a conclusion.

“What would give you faith that health departments are going to effectively regulate any health problems related to these other drugs?”

As the Liberal government prepares to introduce legislation to “legalize, regulate and restrict access to marijuana” before this summer, one area that the cannabis industry and public health advocates are closely watching is whether it will allow companies to brand and promote their products.

A task force appointed by the federal government recommended it require plain packaging and a limit to advertising similar to the restrictions on tobacco. But licensed producers of medical marijuana argue that cannabis isn’t as dangerous as tobacco and that branding and marketing are necessary to attract consumers from the black market to the legal industry.

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Mahood began advocating for plain packaging on tobacco in the mid-1980s. Governments over the years declined to implement it until 2016, when Health Minister Jane Philpott vowed to ban branding on cigarette boxes and a bill was introduced in the Senate.

The aim is to strip the industry’s ability to attach “sophistication and allure” to its products, said Mahood, and to prevent it from detracting from public-health warnings.

While there is a lot that researchers still…

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