Cigarettes still killing but the message isn’t getting through

Canada’s cigarette packages have used the same health warnings for almost 10 years. Canadians have seen each warning billions of times according to a report Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada will publish later this year. The message is no longer effective.

However, the government has decided tobacco companies won’t have to revamp their warning labels, after six years of planning and studies. New Democrats believe the government is more concerned about Tobacco companies’ profits than the health and safety of Canadians.

Anti-smoking advocates such as the Canadian Cancer Society think the old labelling is stale. Fresh packaging could save lives. We believe larger, more visible warnings and plain packaging can encourage more Canadians to quit smoking. Plain packaging means smaller, uniform font brand names and cigarette packages that are all the same colour.

While the government continues to delay the implementation of new packaging, tobacco products kill more and more Canadians. A total 37,000 Canadians each year die from tobacco related illness. A federal government report released last week said smoking is no longer declining, even among young people. In fact, the smoking rate has flat lined, according to the 2008-09 Youth Smoking Survey.

“No business would leave its advertising unchanged for a decade,” said a letter from the Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada to the national health minister. The letter, sent in June, was signed by representatives from several organizations including the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Cancer Society.

The letter also says that packaging with an emotional connection can help smokers take action and quit. The sample image shows a woman in a hospital bed dying of lung cancer with her words, “It hurts me so much to think of the pain I’ll cause to my daughter.”

The physicians pointed to the government’s own research in 2008, which concluded that bigger, more visible warnings would support efforts against smoking.

Canada is behind several other countries that have renewed their packaging two or more times over several years. Uruguay, for example, has renewed their warning labels five times since 2006, according to a Canadian Cancer Society report. About 40 countries or jurisdictions require picture warnings on cigarette packages. Canada is falling behind.

Australia has plans to implement plain packaging starting in 2012. We think this could be the next step for Canada.
The government is putting lives at risk and ignoring its own advice on cigarette packaging. Now is the time to end the delays.