Ottawa to increase size of tobacco warnings to cover 3/4 of cigarette package

New anti-smoking warnings on cigarette packs, to be announced by the federal government Thursday, will feature images of an iconic Canadian cancer victim and cover a full three-quarters of the packages’ surface.

The significant increase in the size of the often-stark ads comes after opposition MPs on the House of Commons health committee recently threw their weight behind a long-standing movement to bump up the mandatory ads from the current level of half the packs’ surface panel.

The federal government is boosting the size of anti-smoking warnings on cigarette and little-cigar packs to cover a full 75 per cent of the surface of the packages.

The federal government is boosting the size of anti-smoking warnings on cigarette and little-cigar packs to cover a full 75 per cent of the surface of the packages.

Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq was to unveil the new ads, some of which will feature pictures of Barb Tarbox, who died in 2003 of cancer but who became famous before her death for her high-profile crusade to persuade young people to not smoke.

Aglukkaq’s announcement is timed to encourage smokers to make a new year’s resolution to kick the habit, an official said.

The new ads also will feature a toll-free number for a national helpline for smokers and a website for more information.

Images of Tarbox at a palliative care facility have already been shortlisted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use on its new cigarette-package warnings. A final decision on using her image in the United States will be made in 2011.

Changes to the Canadian warnings on cigarette packs have long been advocated by anti-smoking activists. “Size is extremely important to the effectiveness” of the ads, Rob Cunningham of the Canadian Cancer Society warned recently. “The larger the size, the greater the impact.”

Health Canada’s own extensive surveys, on which it has spent about $3.6 million so far, concluded the old graphic warnings were becoming less effective and larger images were needed. The research also concluded that using images of Tarbox would be effective.

Mandatory warnings that cover 50 per cent of the surface of cigarette packs have been law in Canada since 2001.

For years, the government has planned to increase the size of warnings and was expected to unveil its plans in early 2010. When it delayed, opposition critics and others accused Ottawa of caving in to the tobacco industry, which has argued the government’s efforts would be better spent on fighting contraband tobacco than on retooling package warnings.

The tobacco industry’s “tactics are delay, distract and distort,” Dr. Robert Strang, chief public health officer for Nova Scotia, told the health committee earlier this month.

In August, Health Canada told provincial health officials there wouldn’t be immediate action on new ads.

The following month, Aglukkaq repeated that message to provincial health ministers and added it was important to have a social media strategy to reach young people.

source: Postmedia News

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