Cigarettes In Canada Will Feature 'Graphic' Health Warnings & It'll Be Seen With Every Puff
Canadians who smoke will soon be reminded about the health risks of smoking with every drag of a cigarette.
The Government of Canada says the country will soon start printing labels on every single cigarette in an effort to help Canadians quit smoking, making it the first country in the world to take on the initiative.
In its press release, the federal government says the Tobacco Products Appearance, Packaging and Labelling Regulations will be part of its "continued efforts to help adults who smoke to quit, to protect youth and non-tobacco users from nicotine addiction, and to further reduce the appeal of tobacco."
"Tobacco use continues to kill 48,000 Canadians each year," Carolyn Bennett, Canada's Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health, said in the release.
"This bold step will make health warning messages virtually unavoidable, and together with updated graphic images displayed on the package, will provide a real and startling reminder of the health consequences of smoking."
\u201cToday on #WorldNoTobaccoDay, I announced that\u00a0\ud83c\udde8\ud83c\udde6 will become the first country in the world to label individual cigarettes with health warnings.\u201d— Carolyn Bennett (@Carolyn Bennett) 1685568526
While the new regulations will take over a year to be fully implemented, organizations like the Canadian Cancer Society are in full support of the initiative and the impact it will have
"It is a world precedent that is going to reduce smoking," Rob Cunningham, senior policy analyst with the Canadian Cancer Society told Narcity.
"If we can reduce smoking, we're going to reduce cancer and other diseases."
Geoffrey Fong, a professor of psychology and public health sciences at the University of Waterloo, says the warnings on the individual sticks are a "less dramatic improvement" on warning labels compared to 20 years ago when Canada went from small text-only warnings to graphic warning labels on the pack.
"[The new measure] is going to represent a small increment forward. But I think that what it's done is it's going to generate discussions and make salient the threat of cigarettes," he added. "It's not a major step forward, but it is a step forward."
So what will the labels look like, when can we expect to see them, and will they make a difference?
Here's what we know about the new health measures.
What will the labels looks like?
The new labels that will be printed on Canadian cigarettes.
Courtesy of Health Canada
The six different labels printed on the cigarettes will include warnings like "poison in every puff," "cigarettes cause impotence," and "tobacco smoke harms children."
Those aren't the only changes. Health Canada is also including new warnings on cigarette packaging.
In its announcement, the Government of Canada says along with the individual warning labels, it will also implement the following measures:
- strengthening and updating health-related messages on tobacco product packages;
- extending the requirement for health-related messaging to all tobacco product packages;
- implementing the periodic rotation of messages.
When will we see the new cigarette labels?
The new regulations will go into effect on August 1, but it may be longer until you see them on the actual cigarettes.
The government says king-size cigarettes will be the first to have the health warnings and will be sold by retailers in Canada by the end of July 2024. Regular-size cigarettes and little cigars with tipping paper will have them by the end of April 2025.
What's the purpose of the health warnings?
In its release, the Government of Canada says the purpose of the new measures is to help Canadian smokers quit smoking and protect youth and non-tobacco users from nicotine addiction.
Fong says it's not just about the warnings either, but about the conversation that Canadians need to have about how we address all the preventable deaths from smoking in the country.
"It's just one small part of a much bigger picture and a much richer conversation to be having with respect to if governments, like the Canadian government, are going to get truly serious about the kinds of things that are really going to reduce smoking," he said.
Will the new health warnings make a difference?
Health Canada says tobacco use continues to be the leading preventable cause of illness and premature death in Canada, killing about 48,000 Canadians each year.
In a release, the health authority also notes that smoking is linked to more than 40 diseases, and many health effects can be "reversed or reduced after a person quits tobacco use."
Fong says given the number of significant risks associated with smoking, there is a duty for the government to warn Canadians.
"The more extraordinary the threat, the greater the government's duty to warn and the stronger the warnings should be," Fong told Narcity.
Cunningham says the new labels will make a difference in the health of Canadians because having a warning on every cigarette means it will be noticeable "with every puff."
"It will be present during every smoke break. For youth who are experimenting, they may borrow a cigarette from a friend, without the package, and they'll be exposed to the health warning," he explained.
"For youth, appearance is important, and this is going to make the cigarette less appealing, less attractive, and I think help to discourage youth smoking."
Cunningham adds that Canada sells "almost 20 billion cigarettes" each year, so having a public education initiative like this will reach a lot of people.
Is Canada's goal of reducing smoking to less than 5% by 2035 achievable?
In its press release, the government noted that the new measures will support Canada's Tobacco Strategy and "its target of reaching less than 5% tobacco use by 2035."
But is this really achievable?
Fong says even though these new warnings are a step up, Canada needs to be doing more in terms of product regulation to really bring down smoking rates in such a large capacity.
"They're a small step forward, compared to other countries that are doing policies that are going directly after the cigarette and the engineering of the cigarette that makes it more addictive and more likely for youth to become addicted to this deadly product," he said.
Fong calls New Zealand "extraordinary" in that regard because the country plans to limit the amount of nicotine in cigarettes so that it's "lower than the threshold for addiction."
What that will do, according to Fong, is take the addictive component out of cigarettes and therefore, fewer youth will be tempted to smoke.
"Why go through all that harshness of smoke if you're not getting anything out of it, right? It's kind of like the version of alcohol-free beverages."
How does smoking impact a person's health?
According to the Canadian Cancer Society, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in Canada, and about 72% of lung cancer cases are due to smoking tobacco.
Cunningham says the majority of smokers begin as underage teenagers, so any way of preventing them from even starting will have a big impact on reducing smoking long-term.
Not only that, but the Canadian Cancer Society spokesperson says the different labels will resonate with people differently, whether it's the one about impotency or secondhand smoke and kids.
Cunningham explains the labels will also create discussions among different people, whether it's between smokers or kids who may be urging their parents to quit.
"Tobacco remains the leading preventable cause of disease and death in Canada, and we still have 3.8 million smokers, or 12% of the population," Cunningham said.
"We have an enormous amount of work to do as part of a comprehensive strategy that should include taxation, regulation and enhanced programming. So this is certainly something that deserves strong support."
Are labels needed on other products?
With the new measures going into effect soon, some people may be left wondering if labels should be put on other products, like alcohol.
While it's unclear if that will happen in Canada at this point, Cunningham says the Canadian Cancer Society would support it.
"The United States has that already, but it's extremely small. Ireland has just adopted a new requirement, including an alcoholic cancer warning," he said.
"I'm not sure how many countries, but at least several dozen have done so internationally. So yes, we would support that."
This article's cover image was used for illustrative purposes only.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.