Tobacco plain packaging a global trend: Canadian Cancer Society report

14 October 2014

Toronto -

Cigarette package health warningsThere is increasing global momentum to implement plain packaging for tobacco products, says an international report released today by the Canadian Cancer Society.  

Plain packaging means tobacco company colours, logo and design elements on the brand part of the package are not allowed. Health warnings would still appear on plain packages.

“Plain packaging is an important and logical next step for Canada to curb tobacco marketing, reduce smoking and save lives,” says Rob Cunningham, Senior Policy Analyst, Canadian Cancer Society. “Cigarette packages should not be mini-billboards promoting tobacco use. We urge Health Canada to follow the lead of Australia and other countries and take action to implement plain packaging in order to reduce the appeal of these cancer-causing products.”

Tobacco packaging is one of the last and most effective places for companies to promote their products, often using eye-catching logos and colours to appeal to consumers. Plain packaging would reduce tobacco use by eliminating tobacco promotion on packaging and increasing the impact of health warnings.

Research shows that plain packaging works. Statistical data from Australia shows that smoking prevalence has decreased significantly since plain packaging was introduced in December 2012 requiring all tobacco brands to be packaged in the same olive brown colour. Ireland, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and France are all in the process of requiring plain packaging. 

The Canadian Cancer Society report – Cigarette Package Health Warnings: International Status Report – also ranks 198 countries and jurisdictions based on the size of their health warnings on cigarette packages and lists countries that have finalized requirements for picture warnings. Canada ranks in a tie for 4th in the world with package warnings covering 75% of the package front and back. Thailand ranks first in the world at 85%, Australia is second at 82.5%, and Uruguay is third at 80%.

“Today’s report reflects the role the federal government played in bringing highly effective tobacco health warnings to Canada and in helping to spread them around the world,” says Cunningham.  “Canada’s history of leadership on tobacco control is a strong foundation on which to build our next generation of tobacco control measures, including plain packaging.”

The Society is also urging Health Canada to implement a 2011 commitment to renew health warnings for tobacco products other than cigarettes and little cigars. Warnings on packages for many tobacco products have not been changed since 2001, including roll-your-own tobacco, smokeless tobacco, cigars (other than little cigars), pipe tobacco and water pipe tobacco. 

Plain packaging and refreshed package health warnings should be implemented as part of an enhanced federal tobacco control strategy that should also include higher tobacco taxes, a ban on flavoured tobacco, regulation of electronic cigarettes and increased funding to support additional programming and policy measures.

The Society’s report, published every two years since 2008, reviews and ranks the cigarette health warnings at the international level and tracks developments in this important area of tobacco control.

Other report highlights include:

  • 77 countries and territories – accounting for 49% of the world’s population – have finalized picture warnings, an increase from the 55 countries that had implemented this measure in 2012. In 2001, Canada was the first country to require picture warnings. It was also the first to require that the pictures cover 50% of the package, a measure that ranked Canada first in the world at the time. 
  • 60 countries and jurisdictions have required warnings to cover at least 50% of the package front and back (on average), up from 47 countries in 2012, 32 in 2010 and 24 in 2008.
  • The top countries ranked in terms of warning size (as an average of the front and back of the package) are:

1.   85% Thailand (85% of front, 85% of back)

2.   82.5% Australia (75%, 90%)

3.   80% Uruguay (80%, 80%)

4.   75% Brunei (75%, 75%)

4.   75% Canada (75%, 75%)

4.   75% Nepal (75%, 75%)

7.   65% Togo (65%, 65%)

7.   65% Turkey (65%, 65%)

7.   65% Turkmenistan (65%, 65%)

10. 65% Mauritius (60%, 70%)

11. 65% Mexico (30%, 100%)

11. 65% Venezuela (30%, 100%)

The Cigarette Package Health Warnings: International Status Report was released to support implementation of the international tobacco treaty, the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), ratified by 179 countries. The goal of the FCTC is to control the global tobacco epidemic. Countries that ratify the FCTC agree to put in place health policy controls to reduce tobacco use. For example, requiring package health warnings, banning tobacco advertising and ensuring indoor workplaces and public places are smoke-free.

Cigarette Package Health Warnings report in English

Cigarette Package Health Warnings report in French

About the Canadian Cancer Society

The Society is a national, community-based organization of volunteers whose mission is to eradicate cancer and enhance the quality of life of people living with cancer. Thanks to our donors and volunteers, the Society has the most impact, against the most cancers, in the most communities in Canada. Building on our progress, we are working with Canadians to change cancer forever. For more information visit cancer.ca or call our toll-free bilingual Cancer Information Service at 1-888-939-3333 (TTY 1-866-786-3934).

For more information, please contact:

Rob Cunningham
Senior Policy Analyst
Canadian Cancer Society
Phone: 613-565-2522, ext. 4981
email: rcunning@cancer.ca

For more information, please contact:

Rosie Hales

Communications Specialist

Canadian Cancer Society

National office

Phone: 416 934-5338