Canada is first to require health warnings printed on individual cigarettes

1 June 2023

By Noushin Ziafat, CTV News

Canada will soon require health warnings to be printed directly on individual cigarettes, making it the first country to implement this kind of measure aimed at reducing tobacco usage.

Details of the new regulations were announced on Wednesday, which was World No Tobacco Day. The regulations take effect on Aug. 1 and will be implemented through a phased approach over the next year, the federal government said.

“The requirement for a health warning directly on every cigarette is a world precedent setting measure that will reach every person who smokes with every puff,” stated Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos in a news release.

“This innovative measure will be accompanied by enhanced warnings on the package exterior, and health messages on the package interior that are internationally unique. The new regulations deserve strong support.”

As part of the new regulations, the government said it will require labels on the tipping paper, which is the outermost paper of the filter section, of individual cigarettes, little cigars, tubes, along with other tobacco products. The labels will be written in English and French. 

King size cigarettes are set to be the first to feature the warnings and will be sold by Canadian retailers by the end of July 2024, followed by regular size cigarettes and little cigars with tipping paper and tubes by the end of April 2025.

The government said the new regulations are part of its strategy to reach a target of less than five per cent tobacco use in the country by 2035.

Mental Health and Addictions Minister Carolyn Bennett said tobacco use continues to kill 48,000 Canadians each year, but the new measure will make health warnings “virtually unavoidable” and provide a “real and startling reminder” of the health consequences of smoking. 

The labels include messaging like “Poison in every puff,” “Cigarettes cause cancer” and “Tobacco smoke harms children.”

The Canadian Cancer Society, Canadian Lung Association and Heart & Stroke Foundation were among the organizations that welcomed the news. On Monday, the three national health organizations issued an open letter, calling on Canada’s premiers to push for initiatives to reduce smoking during settlement negotiations with major tobacco companies.

“It’s going to mean that there’s a warning with every cigarette, every puff, it’s going to be there during every smoke break,” Rob Cunningham, senior policy analyst with the Canadian Cancer Society, told CTV News Channel.

“It’s a very positive measure and I believe that many other countries are going to follow Canada’s example.”

Doug Roth, CEO of Heart & Stroke, echoed those remarks.  

“Canada is now a global leader of the pack when it comes to health warning regimes for cigarettes,” Roth said in a news release.

“Tobacco remains the leading cause of preventable disease and death in Canada and these important new measures will protect youth and support current smokers in their efforts to quit.”

In a statement on Wednesday afternoon, Imperial Tobacco Canada said governments should “take a step back and look at the science and benefits” of adopting a “tobacco harm reduction regulatory strategy,” such as promoting vaping as an alternative, similar to what the British government has done.

“A robust regulatory framework is required to govern the manufacture, marketing and sale of vapour products,” said Frank Silva, president and CEO of Imperial Tobacco Canada.

“Unfortunately, some governments are proposing extreme measures that will significantly stop vaping products from fully achieving their harm reduction potential, while doing nothing to address the issue of youth access.”

Other measures the government is taking include strengthening and updating health-related messages on tobacco product packages, extending the requirement for health-related messaging to all tobacco product packages, and implementing the periodic rotation of messages.