From Tobacco Info No. 1 - June 2010
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Health groups press for a moratorium on the introduction of new tobacco products
At the Sixth National Conference on Tobacco or Health held in Montreal last November, the Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, the Canadian Cancer Society and the Quebec Coalition for Tobacco Control urged government authorities to declare a moratorium on the introduction of new tobacco products.
These organizations believe that the introduction of new brands of tobacco products, or the sale of existing brands in new packaging, usually accompanied by misleading suggestions of being less harmful with the use of lighter colours and other visual cues, are just tricks used by tobacco companies. The alleged goal of these tactics: to lure existing smokers into not quitting and to entice new smokers, meaning kids, to “experiment” with new tobacco products. Scientific studies have shown that this type of experimentation frequently and quickly leads to addiction, which allows the industry to replace smokers who have died prematurely. The groups also showed that industry has managed to circumvent existing bans on lifestyle advertising by launching brand names and variants that in and of themselves stand for lifestyles, such as Vogue and Prestige.
The three health groups also oppose the creation of new brands of smokeless tobacco products — a strategy they say is aimed at reducing the effectiveness of smoking bans in public and work places by contemplating and being motivated to quit smoking altogether. Smokeless tobacco — whether a powder, a paste, leaves or in a pouch, and whether it is chewed, snuffed or sucked — is sold in a wide range of flavours that mask the harsh taste of tobacco, often under the same brand name of popular premium cigarette brands, a strategy designed to favour concomitant use of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco and recruit new tobacco addicts. Smokeless tobacco products filled with aromatic additives are not subject to the Cracking Down on Tobacco Marketing Aimed at Youth Act passed in October 2009.
Plain and standardized packaging
At the gathering in Montreal, the Non-Smokers’ Rights Association (NSRA) distributed a brochure that clearly explains how the effectiveness of health warnings would increase if manufacturers of tobacco products were required to sell their products in plain and standardized packaging. Currently, for example, packs of DuMaurier cigarettes, the biggest selling brand in the country, are designed to open in a way that effectively hides the graphic image of the health warning at the very moment the smoker sees the tips of the cigarettes. This strategy is also used on packs of Benson & Hedges Superslims.
The NSRA report also shows how manufacturers use a variety of colours, sizes and opening mechanisms, among other methods, to differentiate virtually identical brands and to link them with fashions and lifestyles. For example, packs of XS Extra Slims cigarettes are the exact size of a Blackberry. Packs of different brands are carried around by smokers as “badges,” as documented by psychologist Melanie Wakefield and her research team from the University of Melbourne in a study published in Tobacco Control in December, 2008, and they act as advertisements to young people who have not yet started to smoke. Some packs are used to advertise other brands, often associating them with a certain lifestyle in order to add prestige, an advertising tactic that is banned in Canada under the Tobacco Act of 1997.
As the NSRA points out, scientific research suggests that the price smokers would be willing to pay for their cigarettes would be much lower than it is now if they were sold in plain and identical packages. A market with brands that are indistinguishable from each other would lead to a substantial decrease in market demand. In addition, legal experts have already concluded that the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property provides no legal grounds to which multinational corporations that own the brands could challenge an obligation to sell their products in plain and standardized packages.
“Until there is control of tobacco packaging, there will be no true advertising ban in Canada,” said Melodie Tilson, NSRA’s policy director. Yet, a total ban on advertising and promotion is called for under Article 13 of the World Health Organization Framework Convention for Tobacco Control, a convention ratified by 167 countries, including Canada.
- by Pierre Croteau
A conference against an epidemic
In the spring of 2008, the Canadian Council for Tobacco Control (CCTC) staff began organizing the Sixth National Conference on Tobacco or Health, themed Navigating the Shifting Landscape, which was held November 1–4, 2009.
By late fall, the organizing committee chaired by Dr. Robert Strang, Chief Public Health Officer of Nova Scotia, and the program committee led by Professor Ann Royer, chronic disease researcher for the public health department in Quebec City, were hard at work preparing the goals, objectives and program content.
The two and a half day event attracted over 500 delegates from across Canada, featuring three plenary and four symposia sessions, over 60 oral presentations and an EXPO area with exhibits, posters and marketplace.
The generosity of sponsors – Health Canada, Johnson & Johnson, Quebec’s Ministry of Health and Social Services, Pfizer, the Canadian Cancer Society, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada and the Program and Training Consultation Centre – ensured an affordable conference experience for all delegates.
It was a particularly memorable experience for the 58 youth, young adults, chaperones and facilitators who attended the youth stream.
Despite the inherent challenges of organizing such a large scale event with over 245 presentations, coordinated in multiple venues, with simultaneous interpretation in French of some of the major presentations, and even providing lunch for attendees, the CCTC encountered two more organizational hurdles: budget restraints and the rollout of H1N1 flu vaccination clinics, which prevented some from attending the conference. However, attendees left Montreal with the latest knowledge in tobacco control and renewed enthusiasm for their work.