Canada is poised to become the first country in the world to require a warning on every cigarette.
The move is based on Canada’s mandate to include graphic photo warnings on the packaging of tobacco products, a policy that started an international trend when it was introduced two decades ago.
“We need to address the concern that these messages may have lost their relevance, and to some extent we are concerned that they may also have lost their impact,” Minister of Mental Health and Addiction Carolyn Bennett said at a news conference on Friday.
“Adding health warnings to individual tobacco products will help ensure that these important messages reach people, including young people, who often access cigarettes one at a time in social situations, and circumvent the information printed on a package.”
A consultation period for the proposed change was to start on Saturday, and the government predicted that the changes would take effect in the second half of 2023.
While the exact message printed on cigarettes may change, Bennett said the current proposal is: “Married in every draft.”
Bennett also revealed extended warnings for cigarette packs that include a longer list of smoking’s health effects, including stomach cancer, colon cancer, diabetes and peripheral vascular disease.
Canada has been demanding photo warnings since the turn of the millennium, but the photos have not been updated in a decade.
Rob Cunningham, a senior policy analyst at the Canadian Cancer Society, said he hoped the warnings printed directly on cigarettes became popular internationally, just as the packaging warnings did.
“This is going to set a precedent in the world,” he said, adding that no other country had implemented such regulations. He hoped the warning would make a real difference.
“It’s a warning you simply cannot ignore,” Cunningham said. “It’s going to reach all smokers, with every move.”
The move was also praised by Geoffrey Fong, a professor at the University of Waterloo and lead researcher at the International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Project.
“This is a really potentially powerful intervention that is going to increase the impact of health warnings,” Fong said.
Smoking rates have fallen steadily over the years. The latest data from Statistics Canada, released last month, show that 10% of Canadians reported smoking regularly. The government is trying to halve this rate by 2035.
StatCan noted that approximately 11% of Canadians 20 and older reported being current smokers, compared to only 4% of people aged 15 to 19.