For immediate release:
Apr 15, 2008

TOBACCO CONTROL

Mr. Robert W. Runciman: My question is for the Minister of Health Promotion. Minister, one of the goals of the Smoke-Free Ontario strategy is "to prevent smoking among Ontario's children, youth and young adults." Minister, I know you are aware of an illegal smoke shop in Caledonia operating on provincial land within metres of an elementary school. We've had reports of children on their bicycles leaving the shop with cartons of cigarettes on their handlebars.

Minister, given your responsibility-don't look elsewhere-for health promotion, do you believe it's appropriate for this store to keep operating and putting children's health at risk?

Hon. Margarett R. Best: I have to refer this question to the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services.

Hon. Rick Bartolucci: Clearly, our government has been very proactive when it comes to ensuring that we educate the public so that we will diminish the opportunities for people to smoke. We have been very successful. We will continue to advocate and be very strong proponents. In fact, I have to say that there has been more originality coming from this government with regard to smoking cessation than from most governments, and I'm very, very proud of that.

Mr. Robert W. Runciman: I'm going to try again. To the missing-in-action Minister of Health Promotion: A study conducted by the Canadian Convenience Stores Association says that 24% of students who smoke are smoking illegal cigarettes-untested, no warnings. According to your own website, Minister-if you've taken time to read it-each year, 90,000 kids in Ontario try smoking. That's an alarming statistic, but an even more alarming fact is that those kids are smoking cheap cigarettes with no idea of what's in the tobacco and no idea of the health risks.

Minister, in good conscience, how can you sit by silently and imperil the health of children, all in the name of political correctness?

Hon. Rick Bartolucci: It's really, really mind-boggling. One day, they're supporting cigarettes; the next day, they're saying that we're not doing enough for causing cessation of tobacco. I have to be perfectly honest that we are committed to reducing the demand for tobacco. We understand that it' s crucial that we do that.

I'm pleased to hear from my colleague Minister Best that tobacco consumption in Ontario fell by 31.8% from 2003 to 2006. That's 31.8% from 2003 to 2006. That equals over 4.6 billion less cigarettes. I think that's something that this government should be very proud of and you should be supporting.

Mr. Robert W. Runciman: I'm glad the minister is hearing from the Minister of Health Promotion because no one else is. The reality is that the so-called Minister of Health Promotion is no such thing. She's like a false front of a building-nothing behind the facade. She won't even respond to concerns in this place, concerns we've raised about kids' health, and instead refers to someone who fills the air with meaningless rhetoric.

Once again I direct my question to that minister: Will she stop playing politically correct Russian roulette with kids' health? Will she stand up, do her job and fight for the closure of illegal operations threatening children's health? Or will she just simply admit that she's window dressing, step down, and save the taxpayers a salary?

Hon. Rick Bartolucci: I think it's-

Interjections.

The Speaker (Hon. Steve Peters): Order.

Interjection.

The Speaker (Hon. Steve Peters): No, I'm not stopping the clock.

I'd just ask that we can take the opportunity to-we can get frustrated with members for answering or not answering questions, but we do need to, as much as possible, maintain an air of civility within the place. I ask all members to be conscious of that and keep that in the back of their minds.

Minister?

Hon. Rick Bartolucci: One of the lessons that my father taught me a long time ago is that when you're losing an argument, call names. I have to tell you that I am very, very critical of the Leader of the Opposition and the references that he' s made to my fellow minister.

But let me talk about this issue. This government is committed to ensuring that tobacco cessation takes place in Ontario. We will continue to work at that. We are committed to ensuring that that happens. I have to tell you that we need the help of everyone in this House to make sure that happens. That type of rhetoric is not healthy for anyone, and you should be ashamed of yourself.