MONTREAL – Imperial Tobacco has launched a legal challenge of certain parts of Quebec’s tobacco-control law and is asking a judge to strike them down on constitutional grounds.
The company has filed an application for judicial review with Quebec Superior Court, saying various elements of the legislation are punitive.
In its court action, dated last Friday, Imperial argues a section spelling out health warnings on packaging goes beyond federal government requirements.
The company also says prohibiting advertising to tobacco retail outlets only serves to undermine their ability to sell their products.
And Imperial contends Quebec’s prohibition of flavoured tobacco and menthol cigarettes will just help fuel the contraband trade.
The Quebec law came into effect at the end of November, although certain provisions, including the menthol ban, come into force later this year.
“We believe that Bill 44 and its measures infringe on our rights and freedoms as guaranteed by the Canadian and Quebec charters,” Imperial spokesman Eric Gagnon said in an interview Tuesday.
“We continue to support reasonable and evidence-based regulation. We shared that with the government when we participated in public consultations.”
In addition to banning flavoured tobacco, including menthol, the legislation also covered a wide array of related issues: lighting up on restaurant patios, smoking inside vehicles with minors and selling e-cigarettes.
Canada’s largest tobacco company suggests many of the provisions were hastily added on just before the bill entered into law and that some of them violate the Montreal-based firm’s charter rights.
Imperial is already challenging Nova Scotia’s menthol cigarette ban, which came into effect in May 2015, arguing the province exceeded its legal authority with the decision.
The move to prohibit menthol cigarettes has picked up steam in the past year. Three Canadian provinces — Nova Scotia, Alberta and New Brunswick — currently have bans in place and Quebec will join that group in November, with Ontario following in January 2017.
Prince Edward Island is also working on one.
The Canadian Cancer Society’s Rob Cunnigham calls Imperial Tobacco’s legal action a public relations exercise and notes that provinces have the right regulate products.
“Menthol is very popular among youth and it makes it easier for kids to experiment and get addicted so, for us, a ban on menthol is an essential strategy to help reduce smoking — especially youth smoking,” Cunningham said.
“These laws are very important from a public health perspective.”
Imperial vice-president Tamara Gitto said in a statement the firm recognizes the health risks associated with smoking and supports fact-based regulation, but that it will oppose anything deemed excessive regulation that infringes on the company’s constitutional rights.
No date has been set for the Quebec court challenge.