Canada Tries Tough Smoking Labels
The Canadian government is requiring tobacco companies to put harsh images on cigarettes sold in that country. The government hopes the gruesome images of the damage smoking may do will inspire Canadians to quit smoking.
One shows a brain split in half oozing blood from a stroke, with text saying cigarettes can cause strokes.
Another reveals a shocking close-up of black, decayed gums alongside warnings that smoking causes mouth disease.
Yet another reveals a heart gruesomely darkened with dead tissue, and cautionary words about how cigarettes can lead to heart attacks.
Toughest Cigarette Warnings in the World
These graphic images and warnings are among 16 the Canadian government has required tobacco companies to put on the packages of all cigarettes to be sold there. The labeling, considered the toughest imposed by any country, is part of an aggressive government effort to reduce smoking.
â€œI donâ€™t think thereâ€™s any doubt the images shock,â€ says Dann Nichols, spokesman for the Canadian Health Department.â€Anything we can possibly do to deter smokers from starting or convincing them to quit is well worth the effort.â€
Approximately 25 percent of Canadians are smokers, the same rate as the United States. The Canadian federal government hopes this effort will help reduce the 43,000 deaths each year there due to smoking, according to Andrew Swift, a Canada Health Department spokesman.
Graphic Images and Gruesome Text
The new law, passed in June and put into effect last month, requires that the warning label cover half of the front of every pack, with color images. On the inside flap, firms must put the toxic contents and advice on how to quit smoking. Warning labels are printed in English and in French, on the back and the front of the packs, in accordance with Canadaâ€™s official bilingualism policy (the highest rate of smoking per capita is in Quebec, the predominantly French-speaking province).Each firm has to alternate between the 16 different images on its product.
Prior regulation in Canada only had a 25 percent-of-the-pack voluntary labeling requirement.
Public interest groups and the Canadian Health Department lobbied Parliament to pass the new stringent regulations. Government funded surveys of Canadian smokers suggested graphic images could help people quit.
Public Responds to Visual Images
â€œWe live in a visual culture,â€ says Donna Dasko, a senior vice president with the Environics Research Group, a Toronto-based market research firm that used focus groups to study the labels. â€œA lot of people are attuned to visual images. And when they can see the image, when they can see what happens to a mouth, or a heart or a lung, it has an impact that is much greater than just the text.â€
Research found that warning labels with pictures were 60 times as effective than just text alone, Swift says.
Besides the mandatory labeling, the new law requires manufacturers to report to the government information about cigarette contents, marketing, manufacturing and sales, as a way to improve cessation programs, Swift says.
Tobacco Companies Fighting Regs in Court
Tobacco companies are not happy with the new regulations and are now in court trying to reverse them.
â€œWe donâ€™t argue with the notion there ought to be warnings, strong, effective and regularly changed,â€ says Rob Parker, the president of the Canadian Tobacco Manufacturers Council. â€œWill these have any effect? And do they need to be 50 percent of the package, is the essence of our challenge against them.â€
Canadaâ€™s ability to get such a tough anti-tobacco measure through, observers say, has to do with the relatively little influence the tobacco lobby and tobacco money have on the countryâ€™s political system. In Canada, no candidate running for federal office can spend more than $82,000. When the new cigarette warnings were first proposed in Parliament, they received the support of all five political parties.
The picture is quite different in Washington. Last year bills were introduced in the House and Senate calling for larger, bolder print on cigarette warning labels. Neither bill received a hearing. But Rep. Marty Meehan (news - bio - voting record), D-Mass., says he plans to continue the fight.
â€œWe are looking at introducing legislation in the 107th Congress that will use the Canada standard of 50 percent warning size and text as a model,â€ says Bill McCann, a spokesman for Meehan.
This is not the first time Canada has taken the lead on aggressive anti-smoking tactics. In the early 1990, Canada implemented a series of dramatic tax hikes on cigarettes, which made equally dramatic dents in teen smoking. But the policy collapsed after the price got so high â€” as much as $7 (Canadian dollars) per pack â€” that smuggled, illegal cigarettes from the United Sates started to take over the market, reversing the trend toward less smoking, and collapsing federal tobacco revenues. The government was forced to roll back taxes. U.S. officials have studied that experience extensively, and law enforcement on both sides of the border are still dealing with the fallout of the smuggling.
It is too soon to know if the new Canadian labels are deterring smokers. The Montreal Gazette reports that teens are puffing on the cigarettes despite the scary images. Michael Gobelle, 16, told the newspaper that the images echo warnings he has been told a million times, yet he smokes anyway.
But they are clearly disturbing some peopleâ€” even an anti-smoking group is calling the new labels â€œmedical pornography.â€ The group, the Canadian Council for Non-Smoking, is offering cigarette pack sleeves with positive messages about quitting to counter what the organization is calling â€œunsophisticated, desperate tactics.â€ And consumers are buying them.