‘Ugliest colour in the world’ to appear soon on packaging for every tobacco brand sold in Canada

16 October 2019
Michelle Gerwing

WINNIPEG — Drab dark brown will soon be the colour of every tobacco package sold in Canada, regardless of brand.

Starting Nov. 9, the Government of Canada’s new Tobacco Product Regulation law that standardizes the appearance of all tobacco products will take effect. Retail stores will be given another three months to comply with the changes, but the new packages are already starting to show up on some store shelves.

A Health Canada spokesperson told CTV News in a statement the measures include removing distinctive and attractive features from packaging, meaning all will now be sold in the same colour, named drab dark brown.

Text style, colour and size, as well as word placement, are also standardized under the law.

“Tobacco packages and the products they contain are powerful promotional vehicles,” the Health Canada statement reads. “Research has shown that plain packaging and standardized tobacco packaging reduces its appeal and attractiveness, particularly among young people.”

According to Health Canada, most Canadians start smoking as teens or young adults. It says 86 per cent of daily smokers had their first cigarette by the age of 18 and in 2017 91,000 Canadians became daily cigarette smokers.

John McDonald, the executive director of the Manitoba Tobacco Reduction Alliance, says these regulations will be some of the most stringent in the world and he’s happy the packages will mostly be covered in health warnings.

“This is about protecting children, preventing cancer and saving lives and plain packaging has been proven to do that,” he said. “Plain packaging really helps to curb use, it curbs the appeal of tobacco products, basically gets the mini billboard out of the hands of kids.”

McDonald said the drab brown colour of the package has been called the “ugliest colour in the world” and the alliance hopes vaping products will soon get the same treatment.

“I think if we are going to look at curbing youth uptake in both tobacco and vaping products, having consistent packaging will certainly help in that,” he said.

Retailers selling tobacco products are already preparing for the changes.

At Food Fare on Maryland Street, a contractor from one tobacco supplier came to the store Wednesday. The tobacco shelves were re-organized, and a keyring full of cards was filled out to help staff find the brands customers ask for when the plain packages come.

“I am sure the first couple of months will be a little difficult, but people will get used to it eventually,” said store manager Ramsey Zeid.

Zeid says he does not see the value in making all the packs look the same, since they are already covered up in stores.

“People will smoke if they want to smoke,” he said. “It’s just going to be extra time for our cashiers to look for the brand that the customers want, it’s just going to hold up lines, frustrate cashiers, frustrate customers.”

Imperial Tobacco has launched a website called plainpack.ca. It says the company supports regulations based on evidence and that respect established rights, but it does not believe plain packaging is a good solution.

It does not believe that plain packaging is an effective way to reduce smoking rates, saying it strips brands of their rights and punishes Canadian adult smokers.

Smokers CTV News spoke with are on both sides of the plain packaging debate.

“It’s not going to do anything, doesn’t matter if it’s red, orange, green, blue, or black,” said one woman. “Nobody cares about what it comes in, everybody just cares what’s in it and they just want the cigarettes, at least that’s what I think.”

Whereas another, who said she is young and living with COPD, wants the packages to keep the health warnings front and centre.

“When kids and young people see that I think it has really deterred them from starting smoking,” she said. “It reminds that smoking is bad and I should just really try to quit.”

The plain packaging is a part of Canada’s Tobacco Strategy which aims to get tobacco use down to 5 per cent in Canada by 2035. According to Health Canada, tobacco is the leading preventable cause of premature death in Canada.

Winnipeg