‘Poison in every puff’: Canada puts health warnings on individual cigarettes

1 Aug 2023

By Tracey Lindeman, The Guardian

The first-of-its-kind measure is part of a sweeping new set of tobacco regulations to tighten controls over the industry

Individual cigarettes in Canada will now carry warnings such as “poison in every puff” and “cigarettes cause impotence” in what the government says is an effort to make it “virtually impossible to avoid health warnings altogether”.

The measure, the first of its kind in the world, is part of a sweeping set of new tobacco regulations coming into effect on Tuesday that will see tight controls phased in over the next two years.

“Tobacco use continues to kill 48,000 Canadians each year. We are taking action by being the first country in the world to label individual cigarettes with health warning messages,” said Carolyn Bennett, who was minister of mental health and addictions when the rules were first announced. (Bennett was shuffled out of cabinet last week after announcing her departure from federal politics.)

The move is the latest in a long series of measures to curb smoking from the Canadian government.

About 13% of Canadians use tobacco, costing the public healthcare system more than $6bn annually, the government says. In 1965, about half of Canadians smoked.

The smoking rate in Canada has steadily declined as public awareness of smoking’s dangers has grown. Federal and provincial regulations on tobacco sales, use, taxation and advertising have also led to declining rates in all age groups.

Canada was the first country in the world to require cigarette makers put pictorial warnings on cigarette packages, in 2001. Bans on indoor smoking followed later that decade.

Research suggests that periodically refreshing warnings with new images and text is an effective way to raise awareness of health effects among smokers.

The new rules taking effect this week – known as Tobacco Products Appearance, Packaging and Labelling Regulations (TPAPLR) – mean that the warning messages will change every two to three years, depending on the product.

Canadian Lung Association CEO Terry Dean welcomed the new measures, calling the individual cigarette warnings “quite unique and novel”.

TPAPLR also attempts to standardise the sizes of package health warnings which must now take up at least 75% of cigarette packs’ display areas.

Annie Papageorgiou, executive director of the Quebec Council on Tobacco and Health, said it had been more than 10 years since the images were last changed.

Papageorgiou and Dean said they would like to see more regulations on vaping and a tobacco tax hike moving forward, as well as a cost recovery fee levied on tobacco companies.

“We still have too many smokers in Quebec – too many people who are dying from tobacco use. We’ll gladly take anything we can do to protect occasional smokers, new smokers and youth,” she said.

The government says these new regulations bring the country into line with the World Health Organization’s framework convention on tobacco control.


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