A proposed standardized cigarette package is displayed in front of a variety of cigarette packages available today in Canada. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Can new plain cigarette packs be effective in reducing smoking?


Cigarette packs in Canada will soon all look quite similar, as federal rules will make drab brown the default colour for tobacco brands next week.

From November 9, all retailers will have to remove their logos and attractive features from packaging and “only the permitted text may be displayed on the packages, in a standard location, font, colour and size,” wrote Health Canada in an email to RCI. “Cigarette packaging will be standardized to a slide-and-shell format, and the appearance of cigarettes and other tobacco products will be standardized as well.”

Some of these plain-packaged cigarettes have already started to appear on shelves but retailers will still have a 90-day window to offload their remaining inventory.

For Health Canada, “reducing the appeal of tobacco products is an important step toward protecting Canadians, particularly youth, from inducements to using tobacco products and from the consequent dependence on them.”

Despite decades of effort to reduce tobacco use, tobacco is still the leading preventable cause of premature death in Canada, killing half of all long-term users.Health Canada to RCI

The “slide and shell” package format which will provide a wider surface area that will display the largest health warnings in the world, says the Canadian Cancer Society. (Courtesy of Health Canada)

The regulation is supported by health experts and advocates such as Rob Cunningham, a senior policy analyst at the Canadian Cancer Society, who sees it as “the best plain packaging requirements in the world.”

As an example, the “slide and shell” package format which will provide a wider surface area that will display the largest health warnings in the world, says Cunningham. This new format will become mandatory in 2021.

“We strongly support the plain packaging regulations as they are essential to protect Canadian youth from tobacco companies,” says Rob Cunningham in a news release. “Tobacco is addictive and deadly and should not be sold in packages made to be more attractive. Tobacco packaging should not function as mini-billboards promoting tobacco use.”

Cunningham adds that Canada will be ahead of other countries in banning extra-long and “slim” cigarettes, “thus eliminating a type of cigarette targeting women and associating smoking with slimness and fashionability.”

The new regulation is intended to discourage people from smoking, especially young people. Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Targeting youth

With this regulation, Health Canada hopes to reduce the number of people who start smoking, especially young people.

“The vast majority of smokers begin smoking by adolescence or young adulthood,” said Health Canada in an email. “In Canada, 86% of current adult daily smokers had smoked their first cigarette by the age of 18. In 2017 alone, 91,000 Canadians became daily cigarette smokers.”

Research shows that packages have become powerful branding tools to appeal to consumers said University of Waterloo psychology professor Geoffrey Fong to The Canadian Press.

“The package designs (are) really amazingly glitzy and very attractive, especially to kids,” said Fong, the founder and chief principal investigator of the International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Project.

Cigarettes sit on a shelf in this picture illustration taken in Montreal, March 11, 2012. (Christinne Muschi/Reuters)

The professor adds that some packaging are designed to make consumers believe that some brands are less harmful than others. He justifies his point by saying studies indicate that cigarette packages with light colours and white spaces are seen to have lower health risk than dark-toned products.

In his research, he also found that plain packaging has a real effect on reducing the attractiveness of cigarettes to smokers.

“This measure is going to have an important difference, especially over time,” said Cunningham to The Canadian Press.

We will have kids who will grow up not exposed to branded packages.Rob Cunningham, a senior policy analyst at the Canadian Cancer Society
Proven results in other countries

France is one of 16 other countries that have already implemented a neutral packaging policy for cigarettes.

The regulation came into force on January 1, 2017.

According to Santé Publique France, the national health agency, “smokers who are embarrassed to take their package out in plain sight because of its appearance have doubled in number in 2017 (12%) compared to 2016 (6%).”

New cigarette packs, plain with unbranded packaging and with the health warning, “Smoking Kills” are displayed for sale by a tobacconist as part of anti-smoking legislation in a French ‘Tabac’ in Paris, France. (Charles Platiau/Reuters)

By comparing smokers’ perceptions before the introduction of the new package (2016) and after (2017), the agency also found that “the proportion of smokers who say they like the look of their cigarette package has been divided by three” and “the appreciation of the package has particularly declined among 18-24 year olds.”

Australia was the first country to implement neutral packaging laws on December 1, 2012. A review in 2016 found that plain packaging “has helped to reduce smoking and passive smoking in Australia, is having a positive impact and is expected to continue reducing smoking rates,” says the Australian Department of Health.

Tobacco product packaging for the same product illustrates the before, right, and after standardized rules came into effect in Australia. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Independent studies in both countries show that the new regulations have significantly reduced the number of smokers, while taking into account other parallel measures, such as increasing taxes on cigarettes.

However, several studies commissioned by tobacco companies conclude that plain packaging has no significant effect on consumption.

A complex change for tobacco manufacturers

Some companies such as Rothmans, Benson & Hedges do not oppose the new regulation but will have to adapt their product until the point they will need to change the names.

For example, Belmont Silver will be known as Belmont Select under the new rules for brand names prohibiting references to colours or filter characteristics.

This change could affect sales, as consumers and retailers could be confused, but the company is doing its best to ensure a smooth transition.

An example of plain packaging as required by the new regulations. (Courtesy of Health Canada)

However, others oppose the policy on several fronts. It is the case of Imperial Tobacco Canada said head of regulatory affairs Eric Gagnon to The Canadian Press.

“You’re changing the entire supply chain,” said Gagnon. “It’s not like you just turn a key on and off. You need to change all your artwork, all your equipment, retool all your machines, so obviously, it’s very costly and a very complex operation.”

For Gagnon, the only thing resulting from this regulation will be a boost in illicit sale of tobacco products.

These arguments are shared by other industry members, which the World Health Organization (WHO) has described as “baseless” and “not supported by the evidence.”

WHO has been recommending the adoption of plain packaging since 2008.

To address unique compliance challenges, Health Canada says that some requirements will be phased in over the next two years. All requirements will be fully implemented by February 2022.

RCI with The Canadian Press

Categories: Health, Society
Tags: , , , ,

Do you want to report an error or a typo? Click here!

@*@ Comments

Leave a Reply

Note: By submitting your comments, you acknowledge that Radio Canada International has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Radio Canada International does not endorse any of the views posted. Your comments will be pre-moderated and published if they meet Netiquette guidelines.

When you express your personal opinion in an online forum, you must be as courteous as if you were speaking with someone face-to-face. Insults and personal attacks will not be tolerated. To disagree with an opinion, an idea or an event is one thing, but to show disrespect for other people is quite another. Great minds don’t always think alike—and that’s precisely what makes online dialogue so interesting and valuable.

Netiquette is the set of rules of conduct governing how you should behave when communicating via the Internet. Before you post a message to a blog or forum, it’s important to read and understand these rules. Otherwise, you may be banned from posting.

  1. RCInet.ca’s online forums are not anonymous. Users must register, and give their full name and place of residence, which are displayed alongside each of their comments. RCInet.ca reserves the right not to publish comments if there is any doubt as to the identity of their author.
  2. Assuming the identity of another person with intent to mislead or cause harm is a serious infraction that may result in the offender being banned.
  3. RCInet.ca’s online forums are open to everyone, without regard to age, ethnic origin, religion, gender or sexual orientation.
  4. Comments that are defamatory, hateful, racist, xenophobic, sexist, or that disparage an ethnic origin, religious affiliation or age group will not be published.
  5. In online speak, writing in ALL CAPS is considered yelling, and may be interpreted as aggressive behaviour, which is unpleasant for the people reading. Any message containing one or more words in all caps (except for initialisms and acronyms) will be rejected, as will any message containing one or more words in bold, italic or underlined characters.
  6. Use of vulgar, obscene or objectionable language is prohibited. Forums are public places and your comments could offend some users. People who use inappropriate language will be banned.
  7. Mutual respect is essential among users. Insulting, threatening or harassing another user is prohibited. You can express your disagreement with an idea without attacking anyone.
  8. Exchanging arguments and opposing views is a key component of healthy debate, but it should not turn into a dialogue or private discussion between two users who address each other without regard for the other participants. Messages of this type will not be posted.
  9. Radio Canada International publishes contents in five languages. The language used in the forums has to be the same as the contents we publish or in one of the two official languages, English or French. The usage of other languages, with the exception of some words, is forbidden. Messages that are off-topic will not be published.
  10. Making repetitive posts disrupts the flow of discussions and will not be tolerated.
  11. Adding images or any other type of file to comments is forbidden. Including hyperlinks to other websites is allowed, as long as they comply with netiquette. Radio Canada International  is in no way responsible for the content of such sites, however.
  12. Copying and pasting text written by someone else, even if you credit the author, is unacceptable if that text makes up the majority of your comment.
  13. Posting any type of advertising or call to action, in any form, to Radio Canada International  forums is prohibited.
  14. All comments and other types of content are moderated before publication. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to refuse any comment for publication.
  15. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to close a forum at any time, without notice.
  16. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to amend this code of conduct (netiquette) at any time, without notice.
  17. By participating in its online forums, you allow Radio Canada International to publish your comments on the web for an indefinite time. This also implies that these messages will be indexed by Internet search engines.
  18. Radio Canada International has no obligation to remove your messages from the web if one day you request it. We invite you to carefully consider your comments and the consequences of their posting.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


5 comments on “Can new plain cigarette packs be effective in reducing smoking?
  1. Avatar Debbie Dunn says:

    I never started smoking till I was 21 and you can change the packaging all you want it makes no difference we don’t buy smokes because of the colours of the pack nor do the young adults we smoke because we enjoy it as I do maybe they need to take more of the chemicals out of the smokes so it’s not as harmful the government only jumped on making the price ridiculous as it lines there pocket seriously changing the colour of the pack does nothing I have two sons one smokes but the other one didn’t and he was very healthy only ending up to pass with skin cancer there is so much out there that causes cancer instead of picking on smokers how about we try to find other alternatives so sad how all our human rights are being taken away from us with so many things but changing the pack does nothing and that comes from all the smokers I know

  2. Avatar Taylor says:

    This is a dumb regulation. It’s not like anyone thinks smoking is not healthy. With the vaping related deaths and illnesses, these activists are shooting at the wrong target.

  3. Avatar SA says:

    I smoke super slim Benson & Hedges, with the new regulations I am supposed to smoke king size!!!what is next? I will be told what to wear or what to say!?

  4. Paper cigarette boxes usually are made in the color of cardboard with no extra designs and prints and no layouts because they are mostly designed to ship cigarettes from one place to another through them.

  5. Avatar Peter Ashcroft says:

    How many people boast that they can never give up smoking – because they never started!