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A new private member’s bill is taking aim at fossil fuel companies using the same tactics that forced Big Tobacco to stop advertising.

The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) has been pushing for a fossil fuel ad ban for two years, and worked with NDP MP Charlie Angus to develop his newest private member’s bill. The legislation would make it illegal for fossil fuel companies and lobby groups to “falsely promote the burning of fossil fuels as a benefit to the public,” environment, human health and reconciliation with Indigenous people, said Angus at a Tuesday press conference. Bill C-372 would also make it illegal to erroneously claim the use of one fossil fuel product is somehow better than another, he noted.

“To claim that there are clean fossil fuels is like saying there are safe cigarettes,” said Angus. “We know that is simply not true.”

Burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas is one of the primary drivers of climate change. An investigation by The Guardian revealed fossil fuel executives were aware as early as the 1950s that the planet-warming greenhouse gases their operations spew into the atmosphere would have catastrophic consequences for life on earth. Until recently, the playbook was to deny this.

“Now that the planet is on fire, they're shifting their propaganda with false claims of producing cleaner products, claiming they can be part of the climate solution. That's like Benson & Hedges telling you that they can help end lung cancer,” said Angus.

In 1989, Canadian Parliament restricted tobacco advertising and sponsorship to respond to that public health crisis, the bill notes. Health Canada says fumes from diesel combustion are specifically associated with lung cancer and also suggests there is a relationship to other negative health outcomes, including reproductive and cardiovascular issues. A decade ago, a study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology found evidence that children who live in homes with gas stoves have an increased risk of asthma.

“Today's private member's bill is an important step in addressing this national public health crisis and the campaign of disinformation from the oil and gas industry, which is making this problem worse,” said Dr. Sehjal Bhargava, a CAPE board member at the press conference.

Climate change makes extreme weather more frequent and intense, which can have deadly impacts. More than 600 people died during the heat dome in B.C. in the summer of 2021. Canada just had its worst wildfire season in history, with nearly 200,000 Canadians placed under evacuation orders. Bhargava also cited a 2021 Harvard study that estimated air pollution from burning fossil fuels was responsible for about one in five premature deaths worldwide in 2018 and an estimated 34,000 premature deaths in Canada that year.

“For decades, fossil fuel companies have used the same playbook as big tobacco to deceive the public,” said Leah Temper, CAPE’s economic and health policy program director. Temper pointed to the Pathways Alliance – a group of the six largest oilsands companies – and its “multimillion-dollar campaign claiming that the oil sands can be net-zero.”

“To claim that there are clean fossil #fuels is like saying there are safe cigarettes,” said @CharlieAngusNDP. “We know that is simply not true.” His new private member's bill C-372 would crack down on this type of #advertising. #cdnpoli

“This is false. Oil can never be net-zero because 80 per cent or more of the lifecycle emissions are released when oil is burned,” she said. Net-zero is a loosely defined term used by governments, companies and various groups to suggest by 2050 any planet-warming emissions they create will be offset.

She also highlighted a recent report by Yale University and Environment Canada that found air pollution from the Athabasca oilsands was between 20 to 63 times higher than reported by industry.

“That's not a rounding error. That's negligence. Any product that was 60 times worse for you than its producer claimed would be taken off the shelves,” said Temper.

The Competition Bureau is currently investigating several greenwashing allegations brought by CAPE and other environmental groups like Greenpeace. The Pathways Alliance is currently being investigated for alleged greenwashing, as is the Canadian Gas Association.

Angus said the bill borrows from the playbook that took down Big Tobacco by focusing on the issue of health impacts. It zeroes in on tackling “the larger industrial falsehood that's been promoted” that the fossil fuel industry is part of the solution after decades of working to delay climate action, said Angus. Promotion of “clean fuels” like liquefied natural gas is “simply false,” he added.

“It's like saying, we're going to put a filter on your cigarette and your kids can smoke it, and they'll be okay.”

In 2022, France enacted legislation to crack down on advertising of fossil fuels and now requires claims of “carbon neutrality” – understood by many as a weasel word – to be backed up with data. CAPE says other jurisdictions are following suit.

Angus’ bill was read in the House of Commons for the first time on Feb. 5. It will likely be up for debate and a vote in the fall, although the order in which private member’s bills are dealt with is subject to change.

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It's about time this happened. Good for the doctors and Charlie Angus for pushing this cause.

Oh yeah!! Every time I see the big ads on buses saying how LNG will reduce carbon emissions, I feel nauseated.

Places like transit system property are plastered with ads. It takes only a few calls registering disapproval ... I include wondering aloud if a venue where false advertising appears might be liable for false advertising.
The only way the advertising spaces become unhappy is if people object to the ads.

PS: Charlie Angus for PM!!!!

He's always been my first choice.

Those liars should serve time in the slammer..........they had to know fossil gas was at least as bad a coal, leaking methane as it does at every step in the production process. They also had to know that when they talked us into gas ranges being the best way to cook, creme de la creme don't you know......they were agreeing to poison our kids and increase the incidence of asthma.

It's no clean transition fuel.........and Charlie Angus should be supported....loudly....by all of us who know the truth. Liars should have no access to Advertising their BS.........but we've let Fossil Fools hoodwink us for decades.
We should be outraged. That we mostly aren't doesn't say much about our survival quotient.

I agree. Thank you Charlie Angus and CAPE! I'm tired of seeing the Pathways Alliance greenwashing ads on TV.

Good ol' Charlie! I've always liked him.