Canada is about to become the first country in the world to require a warning to be printed on every cigarette.
The move builds on Canada’s mandate to include graphic photo warnings on tobacco product packaging, a groundbreaking policy that started an international trend when it was introduced two decades ago.
“We have to respond to the fear that these messages have lost their novelty, and to some extent we are concerned that they have also lost their impact,” Addictions Minister Carolyn Bennett said at a press conference on Friday.
“Adding health warnings to individual tobacco products will help ensure that these essential messages reach people, including young people who often access cigarettes one at a time in social situations, bypassing the information printed on a package.”
A consultation period for the proposed change is due to begin on Saturday, and the government expects the changes to come into effect in the second half of 2023.
Although the exact message printed on the cigarettes may change, Bennett said the current proposal is: “Poison in every puff.”
Bennett also revealed expanded warnings for cigarette packs that include a longer list of health effects of smoking, including stomach cancer, colorectal cancer, diabetes and peripheral vascular disease.
Canada has required photo warnings since the turn of the millennium, but the images have not been updated for a decade.
Rob Cunningham, senior policy analyst at the Canadian Cancer Society, said he hopes warnings printed directly on cigarettes will become popular internationally, as will warnings on packaging.
“It will set a global precedent,” Cunningham said, adding that no other country has implemented such regulations. He hopes the warning will make a real difference.
“It’s a warning you just can’t ignore,” Cunningham said. “It’s going to reach every smoker, with every puff.”
The decision also drew praise from Geoffrey Fong, a professor at the University of Waterloo and principal investigator of the International Tobacco Control Policy Assessment Project.
“This is a potentially powerful intervention that will enhance the impact of health warnings,” Fong said.
The smoking rate has steadily declined over the years. The latest Statistics Canada data, released last month, shows that 10% of Canadians reported smoking regularly. The government is seeking to halve this rate by 2035.
Statistics Canada noted that about 11% of Canadians aged 20 and older reported being current smokers, compared to just 4% of those aged 15 to 19.
By Nicole Thompson