Canada to require grotesque new tobacco labels
OTTAWA, June 28 (Reuters) - Smokers in Canada are to be confronted with grotesque depictions of cancerous tumours, sexual impotence or other afflictions under tobacco packaging regulations the government says are the toughest in the world.
Health Minister Allan Rock said on Wednesday the regulations requiring graphic health warnings, which he proposed in January, have now become law and will take effect for most tobacco products next January.
``Canada is the first country in the world to implement such strong labeling and reporting measures,'' a statement from his office said.
The warnings will have to cover the top half of the fronts and backs of the tobacco product packs and will feature a text warning -- like ``Cigarettes Cause Mouth Disease'' -- alongside a graph or photo, for example of rotten gums and stained teeth.
Another of the 16 different warnings features a drooping cigarette next to the warning: ``Cigarettes may cause sexual impotence due to decreased blood flow to the penis. This can prevent you from having an erection.''
Cigarettes sold in Canada already carry warnings but smaller and on a voluntary basis because of a 1995 Supreme Court ruling.
The United States became the first country to impose a mandatory health warning on all cigarette packs, but the label takes up less than 20 percent of the pack and is on the side.
Bills to implement measures similar to Canada's have been held up in the U.S. Congress.
``Canada has set an example that we need to follow in order to protect the health of millions of American citizens,'' Senator Frank Lautenberg, a co-sponsor of one bill, said in a statement in Washington.
``It's time for Congress to stop letting the tobacco lobby's money dictate national policy on what amounts to a serious public health hazard.''
The Canadian measures, which became law on Monday, were almost certain to face legal action but it was not clear that this would delay application of the rules.
``More than likely there will be a court challenge, for sure,'' Marie-Josee Lapointe said for the Canadian Tobacco Manufacturers' Council.
But Ottawa says it is comfortable it is operating within the guidelines of the 1995 Supreme Court decision.
That ruling struck down a government ban on tobacco ads and said it was unconstitutional to require unattributed warnings. The new regulations attribute the messages to the government department Health Canada.
``The Supreme Court of Canada has given us some pretty clear guidance,'' Health Canada spokeswoman Lynn LeSage said.
The requirement to start the labeling in January applies to an estimated 98 to 99 percent of the market -- any brand with 2 percent or more of the market. The smallest players have until next June to comply.
Imperial Tobacco Ltd., a wholly owned unit of British American Tobacco of Britain, holds 69 percent of Canada's tailor-made cigarette market.
Rothmans, Benson & Hedges is the No 2 maker. It is owned 60 percent by the Canadian firm Rothmans Inc. and 40 percent by Philip Morris Cos. Inc., the United States' biggest cigarette company.
Canada's third-largest cigarette maker is JTI-Macdonald Corp., owned by Japan Tobacco Inc. .