TORONTO – “Poison in every puff”. “Cigarettes cause impotence.” “Tobacco smoke harms children.”
These are the warnings smokers in Canada will soon find on every single cigarette they light up, as the country implements a plan that requires tobacco companies to print health warnings directly on cigarette filters.
The labels will appear in English and French, Canada’s official languages, and are intended to blunt the appeal of smoking among young people, adults trying to quit and those addicted to nicotine, the government said Wednesday.
Canada is a global leader in targeting tobacco use through health hazard labels. Graphic illustrations of some of the health outcomes of smoking, such as images of cancerous tumors or decayed teeth, have appeared on cigarette packages in Canada since 2001, when it became the first country to feature depictions of serious smoking-related illnesses on packaging. It was also the first country to ban smoking on its domestic flights, followed by Canadian airlines’ international flights in 1994.
Smoking is on the decline in Canada and the country’s health services aim to reduce it further. Currently, 10.2% of people over the age of 15 smoke cigarettes and the government’s goal is to reduce this to less than 5% by 2035.
Within the next year, smokers will start seeing the new labels printed on their individual cigarettes, as well as an updated warning label on cigarette packs.
“We are taking action by being the first country in the world to label individual cigarettes with health warning messages,” Carolyn Bennett, Canada’s minister of mental health and addictions, said in a statement. “This bold step will make health warning messages virtually unavoidable and, together with the updated graphic images displayed on the packaging, will provide a real, early reminder of the health consequences of smoking.”
Research suggests these types of labels can be helpful. a study published in 2006 of 9,000 adult smokers in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, found that people who noticed the warnings had an increased awareness of the specific health risks associated with smoking. TO meta-analysis published in 2015 which analyzed data from several studies found that warning labels evoked negative attitudes towards smoking and increased people’s intentions to quit smoking or not to start smoking; however, image alerts were more effective than text alerts.
There were eleven extreme pushbacks against labeling policies decades ago, but some tobacco companies, at least publicly, are endorsing the new move. Rothmans, Benson and Hedges, the Canadian subsidiary of tobacco company Philip Morris International, said it supported Canada’s directive when the government announced its plans for the new regulations last June.
According to Geoffrey Fong, a psychology professor at the University of Waterloo in Ontario and principal investigator at the International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Project.
“There are no public health messages or messages of any kind that have that kind of exposure,” said Professor Fong. “There’s a lot of potential for these deterrent warning labels, deterrent cigarettes, to have an impact.”
Estimates of the number of smokers in the country vary, but according to the data Published last August by the Canadian Census Agency, there are 3.8 million daily and occasional smokers over the age of 12. About 48,000 Canadians die each year from smoking, the health agency said.
Dana G Smith contributed reporting from Durham, NC