A legal history of smoking in Canada

A look at the history of smoking legislation in Canada, including bans, packaging requirements and lawsuits aimed at recovering health-care costs from tobacco companies.
Smoking legislation has evolved in Canada, limiting lighting up in public and controlling advertising on tobacco products. (iStock)

Smoking and tobacco laws in Canada have changed considerably over the last century. Here is a look at some key points in the evolution of smoking legislation.

Sept. 12, 2012

P.E.I becomes the latest province to file a lawsuit against tobacco companies in order to recover health-care costs for tobacco-related illnesses.

June 8, 2012

The Quebec government announces it is launching a $60-billion lawsuit against 11 tobacco manufacturers. The lawsuit alleges that tobacco companies hid the health risks of smoking for several years and should be held liable.

May 31 2012 

The Saskatchewan government announces it intends to join other provinces in suing the tobacco industry to recoup health-care costs.

May 30, 2012

The province of Alberta says it's planning to sue tobacco manufacturers to recover $10 billion in health-care costs.

Mar. 19, 2012

Alberta bans smoking in vehicles with children present. Under the legislation, smokers can be fined $1,000 for lighting up when someone under 18 is in the vehicle

Mar. 12, 2012

A landmark $27-billion class action case begins in Montreal against Imperial Tobacco, JTI MacDonald and Rothmans Benson & Hedges. The plaintiffs allege tobacco companies didn't warn them about risks and encouraged addiction to cigarettes.

Feb. 22, 2012 

Ottawa city council passes a bylaw that bans smoking at bar and restaurant patios and at city-run beaches and parks. Smoking is also banned at any festivals held on city property.

July 29, 2011

The Supreme Court of Canada rules that the federal government  cannot be held liable in lawsuits directed at recovering smoking-related health costs from tobacco companies

June 30, 2011

Nova Scotia and Manitoba announce their intention to jointly sue tobacco companies for health-care costs related to smoking between the 1950s and 1980s.

Feb. 8, 2011

Newfoundland and Labrador move ahead with a plan to  sue the tobacco industry to recover smoking-related health costs. However, the suit is  criticized because the government hired the former law firm of then-premier Danny Williams to seek millions in damages.

Dec. 30, 2010

The federal government says it will introduce legislation requiring tobacco companies to include  larger and more graphic warning labels on cigarette packages. The new anti-smoking ads are to cover 75 per cent of packaging.

Oct. 25, 2010

Alberta says it will  launch a suit against tobacco companies to recover health-care costs related to smoking.

July 5, 2010

A new law  banning cigarillos and flavoured cigarettes comes into effect across Canada. The measures were contained in a 2009 amendment to the Tobacco Act.

Sept. 29, 2009

Ontario says it will sue tobacco companies for  $50 billion in smoking-related health-care costs going back a half-century under the Tobacco Damages and Health Care Costs Recovery Act.

March 13, 2008

New Brunswick  files a lawsuit against tobacco companies to recover health-care costs.

Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq unveils a new cigarette packaging image of lung cancer victim Barb Tarbox during a news conference in Ottawa on Dec. 30, 2010. (Pawel Dwulit/Canadian Press)

June 28, 2007

The Supreme Court of Canada upholds the 1997 Tobacco Act, which severely restricts tobacco companies' right to advertise. The companies had argued that the law infringed on their freedom of expression. The court ruled unanimously that the regulations were a reasonable limit that can be justified under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Jan. 18, 2007

The Manitoba Court of Appeal agrees to hear the provincial government's appeal of a lower court ruling that forced it to extend its smoking ban to include First Nations bars and gaming establishments.

Jan. 17, 2007

The Ontario government allows government-owned casinos in Windsor and Niagara Falls to build shelters for smokers. Under Ontario law, bar and restaurant owners are not allowed to build such shelters, although other businesses, such as offices and factories, are.

Jan. 1, 2007

Public smoking bans come into effect in Calgary and Lethbridge, Alta. The Calgary law gives one-year exemptions to casinos, bingo halls and businesses that have separate ventilated smoking rooms. Lethbridge has exemptions for patios and employee smoking rooms.

Five months later, the Alberta government says it will ban smoking in all public places and work sites in the province.

Dec. 1, 2006

A new law in Nova Scotia bans smoking in all public places, including restaurant and bar patios. The only exception is for designated rooms in nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

Nov. 9, 2006

Imperial Tobacco, Rothmans, Benson & Hedges and JTI-Macdonald announce they will voluntarily phase out the use of "light" and "mild" on their cigarette packaging in Canada.

Neil Collishaw, from the for Physicians for a Smoke Free Canada, holds up a pack of cigarettes that uses the brand silver instead of terms such as 'light or mild', at a news conference in Ottawa on Nov. 9, 2006. (Tom Hanson/Canadian Press)

Sept. 15, 2006

The B.C. Court of Appeal rules that 15 multinational tobacco companies are subject to the province's law allowing the government to sue cigarette companies for the cost of treating smoking-related illnesses.

Aug. 15, 2006

A judge on the Court of Queen's Bench in Manitoba strikes down the part of Manitoba's smoking ban that exempts First Nations reserves, ruling that it discriminates against businesses outside reserves and violates the Charter of Rights.

May 31, 2006

Laws banning smoking in all enclosed public places come into effect in Ontario and Quebec. The Ontario law also includes a ban on any tobacco displays that serve as decoration or promotion.

Sept. 29, 2005

The Supreme Court of Canada rules that the British Columbia government can sue cigarette companies for the cost of treating smoking-related illnesses dating back 50 years and into the future.

A provincial court judge in Manitoba upholds the province's anti-smoking law despite a court challenge by a bar owner who argued that the law discriminates on the basis of race because it does not apply on native reserves.

Aug. 22, 2005

The Quebec Court of Appeal upholds most of the federal Tobacco Act from 1997, but said it is unfair to forbid tobacco companies from exhibiting their company names when they sponsor an event. However, the companies are still not able to sponsor an event using a brand name.

March 18, 2005

The Supreme Court of Canada says provinces that want to limit tobacco displays have the right to do so.

Feb. 25, 2005

The Manitoba government joins British Columbia's Supreme Court fight to recover $10 billion in health-care costs from cigarette companies.

Feb. 21, 2005

The Quebec Superior Court certifies two class-action lawsuits seeking billions of dollars in damages against three tobacco companies operating in Quebec. The lawsuits allege damages on the part of millions of Quebecers as a result of addiction to tobacco products and smoking-related illnesses.

January 2005

The Supreme Court of Canada rules that Saskatchewan can reinstate a controversial law that forces store owners to keep tobacco products behind curtains or doors. The so-called "shower curtain law" was passed in 2002 to hide cigarettes from children but was struck down a year later by an appeal court.

December 2004

The Supreme Court of Canada agrees to hear an appeal of the B.C. Court of Appeal's ruling that the Tobacco Damages and Health Care Costs Recovery Act is constitutionally valid. The appeal is filed by lawyers acting for the tobacco council as well as Imperial Tobacco Canada, Rothmans, Benson and Hedges, JTI-Macdonald, and a number of international tobacco companies.

May 2004

B.C.'s Court of Appeal rules unanimously that the Tobacco Damages and Health Care Costs Recovery Act is constitutionally valid. The act is designed to make tobacco companies pay for the cost of treating health problems caused by smoking.

A man holds a pack of cigarettes in front of his mouth on Jan.14, 2002 in Quebec City. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

June 2000

Law passed that requires cigarette packages to carry one of 16 new health warnings that cover half of the cigarette pack and include graphic images such as cancerous lungs and diseased mouths. The new warning labels appeared on packages starting in January 2001. Some examples include:

  • Children see children do
  • Cigarettes hurt babies
  • Tobacco use can make you impotent
  • Don't poison us 
  • Each year the equivalent of a small city dies from tobacco use
  • Where there's smoke there's hydrogen cyanide
  • You're not the only one smoking this cigarette

February 1999

New regulations come into effect requiring retail establishments that sell tobacco to post signs that read: "It is prohibited by federal law to provide tobacco products to persons under 18 years of age. Il est interdit par la loi fédérale de fournir des produits du tabac aux personnes âgées de moins de 18 ans."

April 1997

Ottawa passes the Tobacco Act, which replaces the Tobacco Sales to Young Persons Act and the Tobacco Products Control Act. The new legislation provides standards for tobacco products, regulates access to tobacco, sets the rules for labeling and promotion of tobacco products, and puts in place rules for enforcing tobacco laws.


Legislation requires cigarette packs to carry new warning message including:

  • Cigarettes are addictive
  • Tobacco smoke can harm your children
  • Smoking can kill you
  • Tobacco smoke causes fatal lung disease in non-smokers


The legal age to buy cigarettes is raised to 18.

January 1989

Tobacco Products Control Act is passed, replacing the Tobacco Control Act. Cigarette manufacturers are required to list the additives and amounts for each brand.

May 1988

The Tobacco Sales to Young Persons Act (TSYPA) is passed, replacing the 1908 Tobacco Restraint Act. The purpose of the TSYPA is to protect the health of young Canadians by restricting their access to tobacco products in light of the risks associated with the use of tobacco. It prohibits any person from selling or giving tobacco to those under the age of 18. It also requires tobacco vending machines to be removed from all public places except bars and taverns.

Ottawa passes the Non-Smokers Health Act (Bill C-204) to ensure federal workplaces are smoke-free and to prohibit passengers on aircraft, ships and trains from smoking in areas other than a designated smoking room. It also amends the Hazardous Products Act to prohibit tobacco advertising.

New legislation also requires cigarette packages to carry the following health warnings:

  • Smoking reduces life expectancy
  • Smoking is the major cause of lung cancer
  • Smoking is a major cause of heart disease
  • Smoking during pregnancy can harm the baby


The Tobacco Restraint Act is passed, making it illegal to sell cigarettes to those under 16 years of age.