Health Canada has announced new warning labels to be printed directly on cigarettes in an effort to deter new smokers, encourage quitting and reduce tobacco-related deaths, in a world first that experts hope will have a significant impact.
There will be multiple sets of six warnings on the cigarettes themselves that will change in rotation with messages like: “Cigarettes cause cancer,” “Tobacco smoke harms children” and “Poison in every puff.”
Health Canada will also include new health warnings on cigarette packaging, taking up a minimum of 75 per cent of the main display area of the package, and will be able to update the content of the warnings without having to change the regulations.
“Having a warning on every cigarette sold in Canada is a world precedent-setting measure,” said Rob Cunningham, senior policy analyst at the Canadian Cancer Society.
“The health warning is going to be there during every smoke break, and for youth who experiment by borrowing a cigarette from a friend, they’ll have exposure to the health warning there as well. I expect that many countries internationally will follow this Canadian world first.”
The regulations will begin to come into effect as of Aug. 1. Tobacco companies will be required to implement the first sets of restrictions for retail by July 31, 2024, for king size cigarettes (83-85 millimetres in length) and April 30, 2025, for regular size cigarettes (70-73 millimetres in length).
A new round of 14 picture warnings will also be required to appear on the outside of cigarette packaging by April 30, 2024, with a second new set of 14 picture warnings to appear two years later later.
There will also be updated messages on the inside of cigarette packages required at retail stores by April 30, 2024. The new and finalized regulations announced Wednesday were previously proposed in June 2022 as a draft regulation.
Canada aims to hit less than 5% tobacco use
The federal government’s decision was announced on Wednesday on what is also World No Tobacco Day by the Associate Minister of Health and Minister for Mental Health and Addictions Carolyn Bennett, and is part of Canada’s Tobacco Strategy that aims to achieve less than five per cent tobacco use by 2035.
“Tobacco use continues to kill 48,000 Canadians each year. We are taking action by being the first country in the world to label individual cigarettes with health warning messages,” Bennett said in a press 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.”
Health Canada said the health and economic costs associated with tobacco use in Canada were estimated at $12.3 billion in 2017, with direct costs to the health-care system of $6.1 billion.
While tobacco prevalence in Canada is currently estimated at 13 per cent nationally, Health Canada said the health-care costs due to tobacco use represent 47 per cent of all health-care costs associated with substance use in Canada.