In the early 2000s, Health Canada began requiring graphic warning labels on cigarette packages. In explicit detail, they depict children harmed by secondhand smoke and conditions such as lung cancer to remind consumers of tobacco products’ full effects on human health.
Now a plan is in the works to see the same sort of campaign raise awareness of climate change via messages posted on fuel pumps at gas stations.
In a telephone interview, city councillor Tim Stevenson said the idea caught his attention last spring and he’s been pushing hard for the City of Vancouver to make it happen.
“There were initial concerns that this would be problematic, legally, but both the head of the law department and internal staff have told me there is no impediment,” he told the Straight. “I am anticipating that staff will come back within two to three months, and then we can move forward.”
Stevenson said the idea has worked its way into the “Greenest City Action Plan”, a strategy document that sets goals the city says will make Vancouver the cleanest metropolis in the world by 2020.
If Vancouver does require information about fossil-fuel emissions to be displayed on gas pumps, it will become the second in the region to enact such a measure. On November 17, councillors for the City of North Vancouver voted unanimously in favour of a bylaw that requires gas stations to post such information.
“We’re told we’re the first in the world,” Coun. Linda Buchanan told the Straight by phone.
Buchanan said the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. She acknowledged there have been some concerns raised about whether overtly negative messages could anger people and turn them off the issue of climate change. Therefore, Buchanan continued, city staff are exploring how attention can be called to the connection between fossil fuels and climate change in ways that are positive.
“This is about establishing that link for people but also engaging them in the dialogue,” she said.
The idea came from Our Horizon, a Canadian environmental group that focuses on helping cities reduce carbon emissions. On the phone from Victoria, B.C. campaign director Matt Hulse called attention to recent news that the New York state attorney general is investigating oil giant Exxon Mobil to establish whether or not it has lied to the public about fossil fuels, climate change, and impacts on human health. That inquiry, revealed by the New York Times on November 5, has attracted comparisons to legal troubles cigarette companies have faced since the early 1990s. Hulse listed additional parallels between tobacco and oil.
“Both have addictive qualities,” he told the Straight. “There are similarities in their problems, and that encourages similarities in their solutions as well.”
Hulse noted that studies have shown cigarette packages’ graphic warnings have proven effective in reducing the number of people smoking, and he said he is optimistic a similar campaign could do the same for oil.