As we did with tobacco, we must ban false fossil fuel ads.

It seems NDP MP Charlie Angus has hit a nerve.

Last week, paying attention to Call for applications from the Canadian Association of Environmental Physicians (CAPE), Angus introduced a private bill in the House of Commons to ban fossil fuel advertising. As doctors and other health professionals across the country have been saying, “Fossil fuel ads make us sick.”

I have long considered that if you are looking for a shorthand heuristic for judging the strength and merit of a climate policy, you have to look at the reaction of fossil fuel companies. If a climate policy is announced and fossil fuel companies come on stage claiming they can support the plan, then, folks, we don’t have a climate emergency plan. If, on the other hand, the oil and gas companies are protesting loudly and you can see the panic in their eyes, then we have a plan with real potential impact.

By that measure, Angus has presented a winner.

Building on the legacy of laws to ban tobacco advertising, the proposed law, C-372, Law on Fossil Fuel Advertising, seeks to “prevent the public from being misled or misled regarding the environmental and health dangers of fossil fuel use” and would prohibit fossil fuel companies from promoting their products for remuneration. More specifically, the bill targets fossil fuel ads that claim environmental or economic benefits.

The reaction to Angus’ bill from Big Oil’s political and media advocates has been swift and hysterical. The online anger machine was quickly ignited by the likes of Canada Proud, Canada Action (the oil and gas industry artificial turf advocacy group), Ezra Levant and Alberta Premier Danielle Smith. He Sun The network’s Brian Lilley gasped: “If you speak out in favor of the fossil fuel industry, NDP MP Charlie Angus wants to send you to jail.National mail The columnists, in a fit of performative grasping, declared: “NDP Bill Would Prescribe Jail Sentences for Speaking Well About Fossil Fuels“, while another denounced: “The NDP’s disgusting argument to criminalize climate dissent.”

If all this seems incredible to you, it’s because, well, it is.

The proposed law was prepared and legally vetted by a parliamentary lawyer. The bill focuses on advertising paid for by the fossil fuel industry and its lobbying associations. Section 5 of the bill specifically exempts “an opinion, comment, or report with respect to fossil fuels.” The bill contains some harsh penalties (hefty fines and possible imprisonment) for contravening its provisions, and critics latch onto the use of the term “person” in the bill, but this is a legal quirk. The bill makes clear that its target is not individuals but corporations that are “a producer, a retailer, or an entity that has as one of its purposes the promotion of fossil fuels.” The persons subject to the sanctions are those who are “directors or officials of the corporation that authorized or consented to the crime.” The bill also exempts “point of sale” signage, meaning gas stations can still have their large signs with posted prices.

In reality, Angus’s bill closely follows the model Tobacco Law, which successfully controlled tobacco advertising in the face of that public health crisis. But I am not listening to any of those denouncing Angus’s Bill which suggests we should not ban cigarette adverts; There is, rightly, a social consensus on this matter.

A bill introduced by #NDP MP Charlie Angus proposes a ban on fossil fuel advertising similar to the ban on #cigarette ads. @SethDKlein writes for @NatObserver #FossilFuels #advertising #ClimateEmergency

National mail Columnists seem particularly interested that the bill would prohibit making claims that one fossil fuel, such as “natural” gas, burns cleaner than another (i.e., oil). Do you think tobacco companies should be allowed to advertise supposedly “mild” cigarettes and vaping as preferable to conventional cigarettes?

Advertising works. That’s why the Pathways Alliance, the Canadian Gas Association, the LNG Alliance and dozens of oil and gas companies have spent so much money bombarding us with false and misleading claims about their supposed climate commitments. And unfortunately, much of the public has come to believe his false and misleading claims that we can expand oil and gas production while meeting society’s “net zero emissions” goals. These ubiquitous advertisements have invaded our public transportation and clogged our means of communication. They are causing harm and distorting public discourse as we strive to confront the climate crisis.

Let’s not lose sight of the heart of the matter here. We face a planetary climate emergency. The future of our children is seriously threatened. The burning of fossil fuels is causing an escalation of extreme weather events. Oil and gas pollution poses a deadly risk to our health; As CAPE notes, each year fossil fuel pollution is directly linked to 34,000 premature deaths in Canada and more than eight million worldwide. Simply put, we need to phase out the use of fossil fuels. In that context, the continued presence of fossil fuel ads sends a confusing and contradictory message: are we treating this as the emergency it is or not?

Angus’ proposed law is already doing a great service: generating a necessary conversation about the role of fossil fuel companies in perpetuating the climate crisis and questioning the social license we have granted these nefarious corporations for too long.

In the wake of the introduction of Bill C-372, Angus and his office have been the recipients of a hose of vitriol from oil and gas industry acolytes. But Angus takes it all in stride.

When Franklin Delano Roosevelt was campaigning for reelection on his New Deal platform during the depths of the Depression in 1936, he spoke of the corporate interests that were united against him and his policies, and famously responded: “I welcome your hatred.” That’s the spirit Angus brings to this fight. Good for him.

As for the rest of us? Those who understand the severity and urgency of the climate crisis should get behind this bill, defend it, and work to get it passed. The regulation of tobacco advertising was a long, hard fight led by health professionals who understood what was at stake. Tobacco companies put up legal roadblocks and spread misinformation for decades as they attempted to thwart society’s efforts to restrict the promotion of an addictive and deadly product. The parallels are stark. Except now we don’t have time for a decades-long legal battle. This new bill is long overdue.

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