Tobacco Info

From Tobacco Info No. 10 - August 2012
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Larger graphic health warnings hitting the shelves

By Geoffrey Lansdell

Canada’s new graphic warnings on cigarette and little cigar packs, which have been making their way into stores over the past few months, represent the most significant advance in tobacco control during the Harper administration’s seven-year run in office.

The new packaging law, announced by Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq on December 30, 2010, requires bilingual warnings on all cigarette and little cigar packs to cover 75 per cent (up from 50 per cent) of the front and back of packages.

Manufacturers had until March 31, 2012, to comply with the updated Tobacco Products Labelling Regulations. Retailers had until June 18, 2012, to sell any old stock. As of June 19, all packs must comply with the new guidelines.

Along with the increase in size, the graphic images have been updated after using the same set of warnings since 2000, when Canada introduced the world’s first full-colour graphic warnings. There is now a rotation of sixteen new warning labels. The images are more graphic than the original warnings, and they highlight a wide variety of smoking-related illnesses; including lung cancer; oral cancer; throat cancer; bladder cancer; cancer of the larynx; heart disease; stroke; emphysema; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; blindness; and sudden infant death syndrome.

The new regulations also require manufacturers to include health information messages on the inside of packages, toxic emission statements on the sides of packages, and a national toll-free quitline number on the front and back of each pack that goes underneath the Home Depot-like slogan, “You can quit. We can help.”

A highlight of the new health warnings are two images of the late Barb Tarbox, who died at the age of 42 after bringing her battle with lung cancer to the national stage.

“Look at the power of the cigarette,” one of the warnings reads, “Remember this face and that smoking killed me.”

The words are those of Ms. Tarbox, who became an anti-smoking crusader in the last months of her life, touring the country and lecturing youth and young adults about the consequences of smoking an addictive product she couldn’t quit even after being diagnosed with lung cancer. The graphic images of Ms. Tarbox are those of an emaciated woman just days before her death.

In April, Imperial Tobacco Canada and JTI-Macdonald launched a constitutional challenge to the increase in size of the graphic warnings, asserting that the new size of the warnings violates the companies’ rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In the meantime, companies and their intermediaries must meet all requirements of the Regulations.