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The fight against tobacco as inspiration for protecting us from polluting vehicles

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In 1989, Canada passed the Tobacco Products Control Act (TPCA). Tobacco advertising was to be strictly controlled in order to protect the public, limiting the promotion of a toxic product with significant impacts on the health of Canadians. When will we see a similar law for the automobile industry?

It's pretty clear that the implementation of the TPCA and the numerous subsequent tobacco control measures were effective! Though these measures were not universally supported at the time and the fight against tobacco continues, the social norms around smoking are drastically different today than they were then. It’s therefore a great example that we can learn from as we seek to protect public health from another major threat: polluting vehicles.

Progressive and tough regulations changed the social norm around tobacco

In various forms, regulations have drastically reduced the social acceptability of cigarettes and consequently smoking.

Here are a few examples of what has been implemented over time to regulate the tobacco industry:

  • Prohibition of so-called "lifestyle" ads, and subsequently all advertising
  • Visual warnings on tobacco products
  • Higher taxes on cigarettes
  • A ban on sponsorship of sports and cultural events by tobacco companies
  • Concealment of cigarettes at point of sale
  • Restrictions on smoking in public places: first in restaurants, then around schools, hospitals, etc.

We need to tell it like it is when it comes to gas-powered cars

We know how powerful advertising can be. And there are parallels between the tactics used in automobile advertising and those used by tobacco advertisers in the past. In particular, they rely on glorifying a lifestyle associated with nature and the outdoors, for example, in addition to associating the vehicle with values such as courage and adventure.

Not only are ads for gas-powered vehicles still overwhelmingly prevalent, they often depict an unsustainable lifestyle and provide incomplete information (in French) about the risks involved. Since we know that low-risk perception leads to widespread inaction on the climate crisis, any advertising that promotes polluting, gas-powered vehicles sends a message that is at odds with our climate, environmental and electrification objectives and the action that needs to be taken.

Could advertising help people see the harmful effects of gas-powered vehicles? If ads showed them as they really are - vectors of pollution, generators of congestion and climate disruptors— could we reduce the social acceptability of gas-powered vehicles?

The problem with car ads, in less than 5 minutes!

Andréanne Brazeau, Équiterre’s Policy Analyst on Sustainable Mobility, has studied the issue and shares her observations in this video, produced and distributed by Climatoscope. To better understand the issues and to learn about what solutions are available in Quebec and Canada, have a look at the video (in French):

It's time to reverse the trend

To bring about a real change in consumer habits, we need to better regulate and, ultimately, stop promoting gas-guzzling vehicles that are incompatible with our climate targets and the ecological transition. Regulation is needed to quickly and adequately control the advertising of gas-powered vehicles. We don’t have the luxury of time to wait several decades. Join your voice to ours to help make change happen by signing our petition to better regulate ads for gas-powered vehicles.

We must tighten the regulatory framework on ads for gas-powered cars and light-duty trucks!