Gruesome. Horrific. Shocking. These are all words used by the media to describe Canada’ s new cigarette warning labels. Worried that smokers are desensitized to the current warnings and pictures on cigarette packs, the Canadian government recently introduced tougher labeling requirements. The 16 new labels, which will cover 75 percent of both the front and back of each cigarette package, are among the biggest and most graphic I’ve seen.
Canada’s current cigarette labels cover 50 percent of the package and are already considered graphic. But the new, larger labels are even more so. I had to mentally prepare to see some of these images. They include real pictures of the effects of smoking, including of a woman dying of lung cancer, a mouth with tongue cancer, and a diseased heart.
Canadian tobacco manufacturers and importers must switch to these new labels by March 2012. Retailers have until June 2012 to update inventories. Imperial Tobacco, one of Canada’s largest cigarette makers, says the public already knows the risks associated with smoking and that the new labels are unnecessary. A company spokesperson remarked that the changes are a political move that will not reduce the number of smokers.
These comments make Imperial Tobacco seem fairly confident these graphic labels won’t have much effect on sales. But there is evidence these new warning labels could deter smokers. Canada mandated that warning labels cover 50 percent of the package in 2000. Between 2000 and 2010, the smoking rate in Canada fell from 24 to 17 percent. The bigger label could lead to an even bigger impact, according to the Canadian Cancer Society.
In the US, the FDA announced new cigarette label requirements in June 2011. The US mandated more graphic images that must take up 50 percent of the front and back of the package. As my colleague Alexandra Biesada noted back in June, the US government estimates that the new requirements could result in more than 200,000 Americans quitting smoking in the first year after the labels are introduced. Several tobacco companies, including Altria Group and Lorillard, have since sued the US government for allegedly violating their constitutional rights. The litigation could postpone the label requirements which are set to take effect in September 2012.
It will be interesting to see if any cigarette makers sue the Canadian government over their new label mandate. For now, companies seem to have shrugged it off as something that won’t deter smoking. But I find some of these images hard to shrug off, as they should be.