May 01

Blowing Out Big Tobacco

smoking sign

Ken KyleBy gaining the ear of the Canadian government, alum Ken Kyle helped snuff out the light of tobacco companies in his home country. And the effects of his work are still filtering across the world.

It was a simple classified ad that led to Kyle’s employment with the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS), Canada’s largest charitable organization. After Kyle began work there in 1986, another newspaper piece caught his attention. Canada’s largest tobacco company was threatening to have its employees boycott Air Canada if the airline followed through with its plan to begin smoke-free flights. A fight was brewing, and Kyle, along with a handful of other health association employees and volunteers, jumped in.

“There were only about six of us working together in tobacco control when we started,” he says. “There was synergy in the group—a great esprit de corps. We had no idea at the time of the impact we would have.”

Kyle became a key player in taking Canada’s tobacco companies to task by lobbying for parliament to control advertising, raise taxes, and institute new picture-based warning messages on tobacco packaging.

Facing a formidable foe, Kyle worked tirelessly through a legal battle that spanned nearly two decades. In 1988 he succeeded in getting legislation passed that banned tobacco advertising. That act was thrown out in 1995 following an appeal from the tobacco industry. Not to be defeated, Kyle helped ensure that a replacement, the Tobacco Act, was passed two years later. Just weeks before his retirement in 2007, Kyle stood triumphantly in the foyer of the Supreme Court of Canada, where the court unanimously upheld the Tobacco Act.

“I am not well liked by tobacco company executives and shareholders,” he admits. But these are enemies he’s glad to have made.

The results of the laws Kyle lobbied to pass are most evident in statistics on tobacco use in Canada. As of 2012 the rate of Canadians age fifteen to nineteen who smoked was estimated at 11 percent, down from 44 percent in 1981. “By any measure, that is a world-class public health miracle,” Kyle says.

While Kyle was awarded a Queen’s Jubilee Medal in 2003 for his efforts, he takes the most pride in seeing the reforms that Canadian efforts have stirred around the globe. Several countries use the same type of warning labels. After Canada became the first country to ban smoking on international flights, Kyle cochaired the International Smoke-Free Skies campaign, which eliminated smoking on international flights throughout the world, sparing billions of travelers from exposure to secondhand smoke. Around the time he retired as director of public issues for the CCS, thousands of Canadians met as part of a conference on the dangers of tobacco smoke—a long ways from the initial group of six Kyle started with.

Kyle received both his BA in economics in 1966 and his MPA in 1968 from BYU. He and his wife, Lorna, live in Lethbridge, Alberta, and have eight children and sixteen grandchildren.

This article was originally published in the Winter 2015 issue of Marriott Alumni MagazineRead more class notes in Alumni News.