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When health-care professionals joined MP Charlie Angus on stage to announce his private member’s bill to ban advertising for fossil fuels, it came as no surprise. Physicians and health-care workers lead the movement for a tobacco-style ban on fossil fuel advertising.

In fact, over 35 health organizations in Canada — representing over 700,000 health-care professionals — called on the federal government to ban fossil fuel advertising nearly two years ago. This is because we see the harm fossil fuel pollution inflicts on our patients’ health first-hand. Countless studies link burning oil and gas to increases in childhood asthma, cancers, worse mental health, adverse pregnancy outcomes and premature death. To us, these statistics are people with names and faces who walk into our clinics each week.

Outside the health-care community, Angus’s Bill C-372 has drummed up some controversy. This is also no great surprise. We saw resistance from the tobacco industry when the health-care community first proposed banning cigarette advertising. In fact, the parallels with the tobacco fight are uncanny.

Like tobacco, fossil fuels are a leading cause of death. Fossil fuel air pollution is responsible for one in seven premature deaths in Canada. These toxic emissions drive higher rates of disease that increase costs in an already overburdened health-care system. Canada now has the world’s highest rate of new childhood asthma cases after Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

When we also take into account fossil fuels’ lead role in driving the climate crisis, their health impacts balloon. In the past few years, Canada has experienced deadly heat waves, wildfire smoke, storms, floods and droughts. As global temperatures continue to rise, people in Canada will experience escalating harm and risks from extreme weather, increased vector-borne disease and other effects of the heating climate. Those at highest risk are children and babies, elderly, disabled, Indigenous and racialized people and those living in poverty.

But like the tobacco industry, oil and gas giants have fought hard to undermine the science linking their products to these deadly effects. Oil and gas companies generated cutting-edge research linking their products to climate change as far back as 1954. Instead of coming clean or transitioning their businesses, Big Oil embarked on a multi-decade PR campaign to undermine the facts, borrowing heavily from the Big Tobacco playbook.

Even today, the fossil fuel industry is investing millions of dollars into delaying climate action by misleading the public about what is needed to stave off climate chaos. (Hint: It’s not more oil and gas.) No less than three oil and gas entities are under investigation by Canada’s Competition Bureau for misleading advertising.

A recent report found that emissions from oilsands production may be 64 times higher than those reported by industry — equal to all other human emissions sources in Canada.

Finally, as with banning tobacco advertising, a ban on fossil fuel advertising would be a major boon for public health. The late Brian Mulroney’s Conservative government passed restrictions on tobacco advertising and sponsorship into law in 1989. These and other regulations led to a significant decline in smoking rates, preventing countless premature deaths. Simply put, targeted ad bans are cost-effective ways to reduce demand for health-harming products and address public health emergencies.

The movement to ban fossil fuel advertising is about saving lives. Canadians are already dying from fossil fuel pollution, with more deaths to come, write Melissa Lem and Samantha Green @CAPE_ACME #C372 #FossilFuelAdBan #ClimateEmergency #CdnPoli

At its heart, the movement to ban fossil fuel advertising is about saving lives. People in Canada are already dying from fossil fuel pollution, with more deaths to come. As doctors, we are witness to this escalating health emergency. We can treat the sick, but we need policy action to prevent the root cause: burning fossil fuels. It’s therefore time for all political parties to act — starting with banning fossil fuel advertising.

Dr. Melissa Lem is a family physician and president of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE). Dr. Samantha Green is a family physician and CAPE’s president-elect.

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Thank you for this opinion piece. It's shocking to read that Canada has the 3rd highest childhood asthma rate in the world. We need to keep emphasizing the negative health impacts of fossil fuel production and use.