Graphic warnings may work, smokers say
Young people shown samples of the graphic cigarette packaging announced yesterday by Health Minister Allan Rock agree it just might deter them, or friends, from smoking.
``It makes me want to quit right now,'' said 18-year-old Tammy Rogers, quickly butting out her cigarette as she winced at images of discoloured teeth and cancerous lungs.
Lee Osborne, 25, a smoker since he was 17, said the packages would make him less likely to continue.
``You don't really want to be smoking with a picture of rotten teeth on the package,'' said the Oakville man.
`Let's take on smoking for the national evil that it is. Let's identify it as the single-most important public health issue in our country.'
- Health Minister Allan Rock
New regulations under the Tobacco Act would require each of the 2 billion cigarette packages sold annually to contain one of 16 different warnings and colour photos about the health risks of smoking.
The photos show discoloured, diseased gums, cancerous lungs, a limp cigarette warning of smoking's link to impotence, and a picture of a child watching her mother smoke.
The images would occupy half of the front and half of the back of each package.
Each pack would also contain information on quitting smoking and on further health risks.
One message warns: ``Tobacco Smoke Hurts Babies.''
Wording visible over a picture of a premature baby in an incubator advises ``tobacco use during pregnancy increases the risk of premature birth.''
Elaine Chau, 19, who has tried to quit, thought the stark photos would help. She hardly reads the written health warnings now on packages.
``I think (the images) would have more effect than just having the words,'' the Toronto woman said while having a cigarette outside the Eaton Centre.
Aaron Cheng, 15, a confirmed non-smoker from Richmond Hill, had similar views.
``It really throws you off when you look at it. That's effective packaging,'' said the Northern Secondary School student.
Jason Doherty, 25, a smoker from Oakville, called the graphic images ``kind of in your face.''
`That's much more effective because it's a visual representation of what it's actually doing to your body,'' he said.
The new regulations will also require tobacco companies to report on the emissions from 50 different chemicals in their products, instead of the three they currently list.
``Let's take on smoking for the national evil that it is. Let's identify it as the single-most important public health issue in our country,'' Rock told an Ottawa news conference yesterday.
``Let's recognize the connection between the efforts of the tobacco industry to promote their product and the consequences for the health of our children, and let's do something about it.''
Rock also promised higher cigarette taxes, a national advertising campaign and expanded public education aimed particularly at new and young smokers ``as soon as possible.''
The tobacco industry immediately labelled the warnings ineffective and impossible to print.
The head of the Canadian Tobacco Manufacturers' Council accused Rock of expropriating tobacco companies' trademarks and business. Legal action could follow, said Rob Parker, head of the council.
``I think a percentage of this size of a package of a legal product is indeed expropriation. It could well have an impact on the trademark and on competition,'' he said.
Canadians are already aware of the health risks of smoking, said Parker, who called the activity ``a national adult risky pleasure,'' as opposed to a national evil.
Anti-smoking groups praised the regulations, declaring them powerful tools to persuade young people not to start smoking.
``What this warning system represents is the most effective - certainly the most cost-effective - health education campaign the country has ever seen,'' said Gar Mahood of the Non-Smokers Rights Association.
``As part of a comprehensive strategy, this is an outstanding announcement, and one measure of that is going to be the strength of the opposition from tobacco companies that we're going to hear today,'' said Rob Cunningham of the Canadian Cancer Society.
Smokers' husbands, wives and children will see the packages and pressure their loved ones to quit, said Mahood, who lobbied hard for it.
Not all younger people thought the packaging would have an effect, however.
Jesse Asido, 15, a Toronto Grade 10 non-smoker who called the images sick and disgusting, still doubted their effectiveness.
``The people who are addicted to it, I don't think even that will help them quit, because they're so addicted to the nicotine,'' he said.
Ann, 17, a Toronto high school student who has been smoking since age 14, said she didn't think the images would deter confirmed smokers like her.
``Most of the people who do smoke already know the risks, health-wise, so I doubt it will deter anyone who is already addicted,'' she said, smoking with a friend outside Union Station.