New smoking warnings celebrated

An important public health measure came into effect June 19 when a series of 16 new picture health warnings were required to appear on cigarette packages across Canada.

An important public health measure came into effect June 19 when a series of 16 new picture health warnings were required to appear on cigarette packages across Canada.

These new cigarette health warnings are a significant advance that will reduce smoking and help prevent cancer.

In 2001 Canada was the first country to require picture warnings. Now at least 57 other countries have done so. This international progress should not be surprising – a picture does indeed say a thousand words.

The new warnings now on and inside packages once again position Canada as a global leader in this area. Canada’s health warnings covering 75 per cent of the package front and back – an increase from 50 per cent – are among the world’s largest and most effective. Previous picture warnings were among the factors contributing to a decrease in smoking prevalence in Canada from 24 per cent in 2000 prior to the warnings to 17 per cent in 2010.

Not surprisingly, the tobacco industry strongly opposes the new warnings, which itself is a clear signal of their success. If the new warnings would not reduce cigarette sales, then tobacco companies would not be opposed.

Another important feature of the warnings is the inclusion of a toll-free quit-line number on every package. This will give smokers, wherever they live, easy access to free advice on quitting.

While the warnings are a clear victory for the health of Canadians, they are also an example of how Canada is an international innovator in public health policy. Such innovation is worthy of recognition. We commend Minister of Health Leona Aglukkaq for bringing this health initiative forward, and acknowledge the all-party support she received to make it happen.

Dan Demers, director

Public Issues for the Canadian Cancer Society

Ottawa

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