New bill aims to ban fossil fuel ads with same tactic that took down Big Tobacco

Bill aims to ban fossil fuel ads with same tactic that took down Big Tobacco

A new private member's bill introduced by NDP MP Charlie Angus aims to restrict fossil fuel companies and lobby groups from promoting the burning of fossil fuels. The bill, known as Bill C-372, would make it illegal for entities to promote fossil fuels in a way that is beneficial to the public, the environment, human health, and reconciliation with Indigenous people. It would also prohibit claims that compare the environmental benefits of different fossil fuel products.

Speaking at a press conference, Angus stated that fossil fuel companies have used misleading advertising tactics for decades. He cited investigations by The Guardian that revealed fossil fuel executives were aware of the negative impacts of greenhouse gas emissions as early as the 1950s. Angus also noted that Health Canada has recognized that diesel fumes are associated with lung cancer and other health issues, such as reproductive and cardiovascular problems. Additionally, he referenced a study that found a link between gas stoves and increased risks of asthma in children.

The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) has pushed for a ban on fossil fuel advertising for two years. CAPE worked with Angus to develop the bill. Dr. Sehjal Bhargava, a CAPE board member, said that the bill addresses a national public health crisis and disinformation campaigns by the oil and gas industry, which are making the problem worse.

Leah Temper, CAPE's economic and health policy program director, highlighted two specific examples of misleading advertising practices. First, she referenced the Pathways Alliance, a group of six major oilsands companies that has run a multimillion-dollar campaign claiming that the oil sands can be net-zero. Temper argued that oil can never be net-zero because 80% of lifecycle emissions are released when oil is burned. Second, she cited a Canadian Gas Association campaign that used a seal of approval from Health Canada to promote the benefits of natural gas appliances, despite potential health risks.

Angus' bill was read in the House of Commons on Feb. 5 and will likely be debated and voted on in the fall.

Meanwhile, a group of 34 climate justice organizations published an open letter calling on the Canadian government to ban fossil fuel advertising in media. The letter argued that such a ban would bring Canada in line with France, which introduced restrictions on fossil fuel advertising in 2022. The organizations cited a Harvard University study that estimated air pollution from burning fossil fuels was responsible for 20% of premature deaths worldwide in 2018 and 34,000 premature deaths in Canada that year.