Tobacco companies have used product packaging as an effective marketing strategy to depict positive lifestyle images, convey deceptive messages and detract from health warnings. Plain packaging will come into force in Canada November 9, 2019 at the manufacturer level, and February 7, 2020 at the retail level. Canada will have the best plain packaging regulations in the world. Australia became the first country to implement plain packaging in 2012, followed by the United Kingdom and France in 2016, and Norway and Ireland in 2017.
Tobacco control – what we’re fighting for right now
Implement plain packaging
Implement an annual cost recovery fee on the tobacco industry
The tobacco industry has caused the tobacco epidemic and should pay for government costs to respond to the epidemic. This is based on the polluter pays principle and holding the tobacco industry accountable. In the US, the FDA has implemented a cost recovery fee on the tobacco industry since 2009, with fees allocated based on market share to recover the FDA’s annual tobacco budget of US$712 million.
In Canada, the federal government has implemented a strengthened federal tobacco control strategy with an annual budget of about $60 million. A cost recovery fee would thus generate $60 million in incremental annual government revenue, which could be used for other government priorities. The federal government is already implementing a cost recovery fee for the cannabis industry.
Increase tobacco taxes
Increasing the price of cigarettes is one of the most effective ways to encourage smokers to quit and to prevent youth from starting to use tobacco. A price increase of 10% will generally result in a decrease in consumption of 4%. The federal government should implement a tobacco tax increase, providing both public health and public revenue benefits.
Renew health warnings for all tobacco products
As of June, 2012, a new series of picture health warnings were required to cover 75% of the package front and back for cigarettes and some little cigars. Canada’s new warnings are among the best in the world but many product categories are not covered by these regulations. As a next step, Health Minister Petitpas Taylor should renew warnings for all other tobacco products. Warnings for roll-your-own tobacco, smokeless tobacco, cigars and pipe tobacco have not been changed since 2001. Well-designed health warnings are effective at increasing awareness and decreasing tobacco use.
Ban all flavoured tobacco products
Tobacco products in fruit, candy, menthol and other flavours strongly appeal to youth. The national Youth Smoking Survey for the 2012–13 school year found that of high school students who use tobacco, 50% use flavoured tobacco. Health Minister Petitpas Taylor should bring forward a regulation to ban flavours in all tobacco products, following the example of an increasing number of provinces and building on existing federal regulations including the ban on menthol cigarettes effective October 2, 2017.
100% smoke-free university and college campuses
In Canada, there is tremendous momentum towards making university and college campuses 100% smoke-free, including outdoors. Policies for 100% smoke free campuses not only provide protection from second-hand smoke, but also discourage tobacco use among youth. A large proportion of campus policies also apply to smoking of anything, including cannabis, as well as use of e-cigarettes and any tobacco product. Read more in University and College 100% Smoke-Free Campuses in Canada: National Status Report.
Alberta Tobacco Reduction Act (Bill 45)
The Tobacco Reduction Act protects Albertans from the harmful effects of second hand smoke by removing smoking from public places, workplaces and public vehicles. Smoking is limited to private living accommodations and private vehicles.
- In 2007 Bill 45 was passed in Alberta with strong support from the Canadian Cancer Society.
- January 1, 2008 – all Alberta public and work places became smoke free.
- July 2008 – power walls and other tobacco displays or promotion were covered or removed in retail stores around the province.
- January 1, 2009 the final decree was implemented removing tobacco from pharmacies, health care facilities, and post secondary institutions.
The legislation also instituted that no person shall smoke:
- inside a building
- within 5 metres of a doorway, window or air intake
- on a patio related to a business, restaurant, lounge or nightclub
- in a bus, taxi, public transit, bus shelter, or phone booth
- in bars, bingo halls and casinos
- in the common areas of a multi-unit residential facility, including patios, pools, other recreation areas and enclosed parking garages
Reducing tobacco sales to minors
Alberta is the only province without any provincial legislation to curb youth access to tobacco products. Tobacco sales to minors continues to be a serious problem in Alberta, which has one of the worst sales-to-minors compliance rates in Canada.
In order to reduce tobacco use among youth in Alberta, the Canadian Cancer Society believes that the Government of Alberta needs to regulate tobacco sales to minors in a similar manner as liquor sales.
Smoking rates among Alberta teens age 12 to 19 remain disturbingly high at 13%. Unfortunately, the Alberta government did not achieve its 2010 target of reducing youth smoking rates among this age group to 9%. Alberta youth deserve first-class protection from the sale and marketing of tobacco.
There is a relatively small window in life when an individual is at risk to begin using tobacco. Most smokers start experimenting with cigarettes between the ages of 10 and 18. Once a person becomes dependent on tobacco, it can be very difficult to quit. Therefore, it is important to intervene before young people become addicted to tobacco. Unfortunately, smoking rates among Alberta teens remain unacceptably high. Consequently, there is a need for better controls on tobacco sales to minors as Alberta is the only jurisdiction in Canada without restrictions. Evidence shows that strict enforcement of youth access laws can help to reduce tobacco use among adolescents.
Protection from tobacco industry tactics
The tobacco industry continues to target Alberta’s youth through candy and fruit flavoured products, price discounts, colourful packaging and slim-style cigarettes. Tobacco sales to minors’ regulations are needed to help counter these objectionable marketing practices. Such laws will prevent more kids from falling prey to tobacco companies.
Alberta can do a better job of protecting kids from the predatory marketing practices of the tobacco industry. Alberta kids deserve first-class protection from the deadly and addictive consequences of tobacco use.
The federal Tobacco Act sets the minimum standards in Canada, prohibiting the supply of tobacco products to minors. Among key provisions, the legislation makes it illegal for retailers to sell tobacco products to anyone under the age of 18.
In accordance with the federal act, individual provinces may institute their own regulations prohibiting the sale of tobacco products to minors. Although the federal Tobacco Act provides some important controls on youth tobacco sales, the federal standard must be reinforced by complementary provincial regulation. Alberta is the only province that has not passed legislation to enhance the federal tobacco product sales restrictions and currently relies upon the federal Tobacco Act as the only means of curbing tobacco sales to minors.
In the spring of 2012, the federal government cut funding to the tobacco control program. The sales to minors and most or all retail enforcement measures have been eliminated, leaving provinces responsible for enforcement.
Youth access to tobacco products in Alberta
Alberta is the only province without any provincial legislation to curb youth access to tobacco and we believe that this omission is contributing to higher smoking rates among young people. Unfortunately, young people now find it easier to access tobacco products in Alberta. Tobacco product sales to minors have increased for the past three consecutive years and Alberta has one of the worst sales-to-minors compliance rates in Canada, with one in every six retailers willing to sell cigarettes to underage youth. A Health Canada survey indicates that 17% of Alberta retailers were willing to sell tobacco to underage test shoppers in 2009 versus 10% in 2006.
Learning from liquor retail sales to minors regulation
Alberta needs to regulate tobacco sales to minors in a similar manner as liquor sales to minors. Alberta’s retail liquor licensing system provides a good working model for tobacco. Tobacco retailers should be licensed and regulated with better tools to improve compliance. Alberta liquor retailers are licensed by the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission and are subject to numerous regulations including:
- All retailers must demand government sanctioned photo ID from any purchaser who appears to be under the age of 25;
- Posting appropriate warning signs at all sales counters;
- Clerks must be 18 years of age and older;
- Clerks and store managers must complete mandatory online training; and
- Potential fines and license suspensions for violators.
Nine provinces have legislation to curb tobacco sales to minors. Alberta is the only remaining province without such legislation.
British Columbia has achieved a merchant compliance rate of 94% through comprehensive provincial regulation of tobacco sales to minors.
The Canadian Cancer Society recommends that the Government of Alberta amend the Tobacco Reduction Act to require that all tobacco retailers be licensed and regulated by the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission or another suitable authority. We recommend the following regulatory measures as a condition of retail licensing (all of these measures apply to retail liquor sales in Alberta):
- Clerks must demand government approved photo ID from anyone who appears to be under age 25;
- Retailers must post signage regarding the need to check for photo ID at all sales counters;
- Retailers cannot sell any tobacco product to anyone under the age of 18;
- Clerks must be at least 18 years of age;
- Clerks and store managers must complete mandatory online training; and
- Stores can receive fines and license suspensions for non-compliance
Alberta youth deserve first-class protection from the sale and marketing of tobacco – help keep Alberta’s kids tobacco free for life; contact your MLA by calling 310-0000 or by visiting www.assembly.ab.ca.
Smoke-free parks and playgrounds
Parks, playgrounds, markets and festivals are common places for everyone to access and enjoy. They are important spaces for children to participate in healthy and enjoyable outdoor activities. These spaces belong to everyone and everyone has the right to enjoy them safely.
The Canadian Cancer Society believes that outdoor smoking, particularly where youth congregate, is detrimental to human health and to the health of the environment. Outdoor smoking perpetuates smoking as a social norm, contributes to second-hand tobacco smoke exposure, and has a negative impact on the environment with respect to smoking-related litter.
Exposure to outdoor tobacco smoke
Scientific evidence indicates that exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke outdoors poses a health risk. Smoke does not quickly dissipate.
Tobacco smoke pollution outdoors is determined by the density and distribution of smokers, wind velocity (direction and speed), and the stability of the atmosphere. High smoker density, low wind velocities, and stable atmospheric conditions produce high second-hand smoke concentrations that can equal levels found indoors. Being within a few feet of a smoker outdoors may expose you to second-hand smoke levels equal to those measured in homes and bars where smoking is allowed. When there is a breeze, cigarette smoke will spread in various directions, and will expose non-smokers downwind.
Scientific support for outdoor bans is based on evidence including the 2006 Surgeon General's Report and the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Resources Board Report declaring second-hand smoke to be a Toxic Air Contaminant. Generally the smoke from a single cigarette can be detected between 7-10 metres away. This measurement easily encompasses the distance between people at a crowded beach, park, playground and outdoor public events.
Outdoor smoking and the environment
Over 4.5 trillion cigarettes are littered worldwide each year and are the most littered item in the world. The Great Canadian Shore Cleanup reports that in 2011, tobacco related litter accounted for 46.6% of all litter collected.
Composed of cellulose acetate, a form of plastic, cigarette butts do not biodegrade; they only break down into smaller components. In other words, old cigarette butts never truly vanish, making them an increasing and ongoing threat to the health and natural beauty of our parks and beaches.
Positive health messaging
Smoking restrictions influence change in social norms regarding the acceptability of tobacco use. Smoke-free polices help challenge the perception that tobacco use is normal adult behaviour.
Limiting youth exposure to tobacco use reinforces the message that smoking is not normal and decreases the likelihood that youth will initiate tobacco use. Since the majority of smokers start before the age of 18, this measure may support reductions in youth uptake of tobacco use and improve overall public health.
In Alberta, the most recent survey indicates that 69% of Albertans and 70% of Alberta decision makers support a ban on smoking in all public outdoor spaces.
The Alberta Recreation and Parks Association (ARPA) supports restricting smoking in select outdoor areas. In 2010, ARPA passed a resolution in support for policy measures that create smoke-free parks and playgrounds in Alberta.
Smoke-free outdoor spaces in Canada
In Alberta, St Albert and Devon require all outdoor public events to be smoke-free. Lethbridge banned smoking within all playground property. Calgary has prohibited smoking in Olympic Plaza Park and is currently considering expanding the bylaw to include outdoor recreation areas. The cities of Edmonton, Red Deer, Medicine Hat, and Grande Prairie have the most comprehensive bylaws prohibiting smoking around playgrounds, skating rinks, skate parks, water spray parks and sports fields.
Across Canada, more than 50 municipalities have banned smoking in outdoor locations and about one-quarter of these communities have comprehensive bans that include parks, playgrounds and recreation fields.
The Canadian Cancer Society recommends that municipalities pass a bylaw to restrict smoking in select outdoor areas, particularly where children and youth congregate. The Canadian Cancer Society recommends the following three-year phase-in period for a bylaw:
- Year 1: Youth-oriented outdoor areas (playgrounds, sports fields, pools, rinks, and other outdoor recreation facilities)
- Year 2: Outdoor areas frequented by youth (fairs, markets, festivals, concerts, attractions)
- Year 3: Outdoor areas accessible to youth (parks, trails, recreation areas, green spaces)
Help keep Alberta’s kids tobacco-free for life. Ask your city councillor to support a bylaw that protects our kids from second-hand smoke in select outdoor spaces.
Reducing tobacco affordability to youth
Alberta has the most affordable cigarettes in Canada for youth aged 15 to 24. More needs to be done to help youth remain tobacco free for life – an increase in tobacco taxes will help prevent youth tobacco use.
The Canadian Cancer Society believes that the affordability of tobacco products contributes to Alberta’s high youth smoking rate. An increase in tobacco taxes, accompanied with stronger anti-contraband measures, will help reduce youth smoking rates and improve the quality of life for all Albertans.
Tobacco use in Alberta
Smoking rates in Alberta continue to decline and are now consistent with the national average of 17% but significantly higher than British Columbia’s rate of 14%. However, smoking rates among Alberta teens, ages 12 to 19, remain disturbingly high at 13%. Unfortunately, the Alberta government did not achieve its 2010 target of reducing youth smoking rates among this age group to 9%. More needs to be done to help youth remain tobacco free for life.
Affordability of tobacco products among youth
Higher youth wages in Alberta make tobacco products more affordable. When calculating the number of minutes of work required to purchase a package of cigarettes, Alberta has the most affordable cigarettes in Canada for 15 to 24 year olds.
A pack of premium cigarettes costs $10.97 in Alberta. Because of Alberta’s high wages it takes the average employed 15 to 24 year old only 38 minutes of labour to purchase that pack of cigarettes. In contrast, a pack of premium cigarettes costs $12.83 in Manitoba, and an additional 16 minutes of labour (54 minutes in total).
Furthermore, Albertans aged 15 to 24 years may purchase discount cigarettes at a cost of approximately $7.00 per pack, which requires only 27 minutes of labour.
Tobacco taxes benefit public health
Tobacco taxes are the single most effective means of reducing tobacco use – especially among youth, as they are price-sensitive. Alberta’s experience demonstrates that higher tobacco taxes contribute to lower smoking rates. Unfortunately, Alberta has the most affordable cigarettes in Canada for youth aged 15-24 due to suppressed taxes and relatively high wages compared to other provinces. The benefits of increasing tobacco taxes include:
- Preventing youth smoking. The impact of a tobacco product price increases on adolescents is two to three times greater than on adults. Young people have less disposable income, making tax policy one of the main tools in reducing the onset of tobacco dependency. Tobacco tax increases will help reduce youth smoking rates.
- Helping smokers quit and/or cut back. The vast majority of people who use tobacco products regret having started and most tobacco users want to quit. An increase in the price of tobacco products provides additional motivation for tobacco users to quit or cut back.
- Helping reduce chronic disease and the burden on our health care system. Tobacco places a tremendous burden on our quality of life and our health care system. Over 3,000 Albertans die of tobacco related disease every year. Increasing tobacco taxes helps lower tobacco consumption rates, which in turn, helps reduce tobacco-related death and disease. Tobacco tax increases can help produce further public health improvements and help to reduce the demands on our health care system.
The Canadian Cancer Society recommends that the Alberta government introduce a tax increase on all tobacco products that would raise the purchase price by at least 20% with revenue being allocated towards smoking prevention and cessation programming.
We also recommend that any increase in tobacco taxes should be accompanied by stronger anti-contraband measures.
The Alberta government could be doing more to prevent tobacco use and to help tobacco users quit. Help make sure that youth are protected from the dangers of tobacco use by encouraging the Alberta government to increase tobacco taxes; contact your MLA by calling 310-0000 or by visiting www.assembly.ab.ca.
Investing in tobacco reduction
In Alberta, tobacco tax revenue is not being used to prevent tobacco use or help smokers quit. Much more could be done to reduce tobacco use in Alberta if tobacco tax revenue was re-invested in tobacco reduction programming.
The Canadian Cancer Society believes that tobacco tax revenue should be redirected to effective measures that will reduce tobacco consumption and improve our quality of life.
The Alberta government could be doing more to prevent tobacco use and help smokers quit. Tobacco tax revenues should be re-invested in measures that will reduce tobacco consumption and improve our quality of life.
Why fund tobacco reduction programming?
Research shows us that when adequate funding is provided to tobacco reduction programming there is a corresponding reduction in tobacco use.
The Alberta government invests about $9 million annually in the Alberta Tobacco Reduction Strategy. Although much has been achieved with this investment, Alberta is not meeting its youth tobacco reduction targets. In 2010, youth smoking rates among Albertans aged 12-19 were 13%. The targeted youth smoking rate was 9%.
Alberta youth deserve a first-class tobacco reduction strategy to help keep them tobacco-free for life.
More needs to be done
The current investment in tobacco reduction programming needs to be at least doubled from the current funding levels in order to finance more effective smoking prevention and cessation programs. The Alberta government currently collects $5.6 million annually in tax revenues just from illegal tobacco sales to school-aged youth, which does not go to tobacco use prevention programming.
A well-financed youth marketing and engagement campaign is needed to help keep young people tobacco-free. When financed and implemented properly, these strategies have been shown to significantly reduce youth smoking rates. An increased investment in evidence-based smoking cessation programs and services will help to increase the number of successful quit attempts by smokers.
A modest tobacco tax increase would provide the required funding while helping to further reduce tobacco affordability among young people and tobacco tax revenues could be used to finance a world-class tobacco reduction strategy that would greatly enhance the health of Albertans while reducing demands on our healthcare system.
The Canadian Cancer Society recommends that the Government of Alberta redirect tobacco tax revenues toward tobacco use prevention programming and measures to help Albertans quit using tobacco products.
The Alberta government could be doing more to prevent tobacco use and to help smokers quit. Help make sure that tobacco tax revenues are re-invested in measures that will reduce tobacco consumption and improve our quality of life; contact your MLA by calling 310-0000 or by visiting www.assembly.ab.ca.
Holding the tobacco industry accountable
The tobacco industry has contributed to the tobacco epidemic, and it should be held responsible for its portion of the clean-up costs, just as other industries are. As a direct result of decades of the tobacco industry's deceptive and inappropriate tactics, disease and healthcare costs resulting from tobacco use are far higher than would otherwise be the case.
The Canadian Cancer Society is in full support of the provincial government's decision to launch a lawsuit against the tobacco industry.
Background and current legislation
In 2009, the Alberta government passed the Crown’s Right of Recovery Act (Bill 48), which provides the necessary authority for the Alberta government to proceed with litigation against tobacco companies to recover healthcare costs resulting from the industry’s negligence and deceptive marketing practices.
Alberta joins B.C., New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Prince Edward Island, Quebec and Ontario in initiating litigation against tobacco manufacturers. Nova Scotia and Nunavut are expected to file similar lawsuits shortly.
In 2012, the Alberta government officially filed a statement of claim against tobacco companies for $10 billion. This is a tremendous opportunity to help offset the rising costs of healthcare while holding the tobacco industry accountable for its actions.
In out-of-court settlements in 1997 and 1998 in the US, the tobacco industry agreed to pay US$245 billion over 25 years and achieved innovative tobacco control regulations. State governments had initiated healthcare cost recovery litigations, which proved to be the inspiration for the British Columbia litigation. The U.S. experience demonstrates that if provinces in Canada persevere, there will be substantial rewards at the end of the day.
The tobacco industry’s wrongful and deceptive behaviour
For decades, the Canadian tobacco industry has engaged in numerous deceptive, fraudulent and criminal activities, including:
- the promotion of so-called “light” and “mild” cigarettes
- adding candy and fruit flavourings to tobacco products, which target youth
- targeting youth, women and minorities with aggressive marketing campaigns
- participating in major contraband tobacco schemes
- misrepresenting the harmful nature of tobacco
Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of disease and premature death in Alberta, resulting in an estimated 3,000 needless deaths annually. Tobacco is the only legal product that kills half of its users when used exactly as intended by its manufacturers.
Reasons to hold the tobacco industry accountable
In terms of the magnitude of preventable harm, no other industry comes close to the tobacco industry. Just as other industries are required to pay their own clean-up costs, the tobacco industry should not be exempt from justice and responsibility. The rationale to move forward with healthcare cost recovery litigation includes:
- The tobacco industry should be held liable for the clean-up costs resulting from its misdeeds. The Alberta government has aggressively pursued clean-up costs from other industries including energy, transportation, manufacturing and insurance. The tobacco industry should not get off the hook for the tremendous damage resulting from its deplorable business practices.
- The tobacco industry needs to be held accountable for its behaviour. No industry should be allowed to get away with deceptive and fraudulent practices. These practices will likely continue until the tobacco industry is held fully accountable for its actions. A healthcare cost recovery lawsuit will force the industry to change its objectionable behaviour based on the experience in the United States.
- Taxpayers are entitled to healthcare damages resulting from tobacco use. Alberta taxpayers have been paying for the tobacco industry’s transgressions for many years. The healthcare system is under tremendous strain and the tobacco industry has contributed to this burden. It would be fiscally responsible for the government to recover the industry’s clean up costs on behalf of Alberta taxpayers who have struggled to finance the healthcare system. Billions of dollars are at stake and it would be negligent to forgo these healthcare damages. Tobacco use is estimated to have cost the Alberta healthcare system $470 million in 2002 alone.
Benefits of healthcare cost recovery litigation
Litigation against the tobacco industry is about more than just obtaining compensation. A lawsuit is also an essential mechanism to reform industry misbehaviour, gain policy measures in the interest of protecting public health and obtain justice for the decades of harm resulting from the industry's negligent and deceptive behaviour. The potential benefits of a healthcare cost recovery lawsuit include:
- Healthcare cost recovery lawsuits can help to reduce tobacco use. Legal action against the industry may lead to the creation of new tobacco control measures that will further reduce tobacco use. Healthcare cost recovery litigation in the United States resulted in the creation of several tobacco control measures including a ban on tobacco sponsorships, the prohibition of tobacco cartoon characters such as Joe Camel, and further restrictions on youth access to tobacco. These measures have contributed to significant declines in tobacco use in the United States. The Alberta government could demand further restrictions from tobacco companies as part of a judgment against the industry.
- Healthcare cost recovery lawsuits help protect public health. Litigation will force tobacco companies to stop acting in ways detrimental to public health, so that in the future the industry will not repeat the behaviour of the past.
- Healthcare cost recovery lawsuits benefit the Alberta taxpayer. A lawsuit will benefit taxpayers by obtaining possibly billions of dollars as compensation for health care costs related to tobacco use.
- Healthcare cost recovery lawsuits obtain the truth. Healthcare cost recovery litigation will obtain the truth, through public disclosure of internal tobacco industry documents. Through this we see how the industry has targeted kids and has manipulated them through its products.
Alberta tobacco reduction coalitions
The Canadian Cancer Society, Alberta/NWT Division is a founding member of the Campaign for a Smoke-Free Alberta coalition. CSFA's goal is to secure a comprehensive tobacco control program for Alberta, including legislation that protects youth from tobacco industry products.
Here are some of the tobacco reduction coalitions and programs we are supporting in Alberta communities
Suggested tobacco resources
Visit AlberaQuits online to access unique member tools, interactive quit plans, and a supportive community of quitters to help you quit.
The Campaign for a Smoke-Free Alberta website provides the information you need to help pass effective tobacco control legislation for the province of Alberta.
The Action on Smoking and Health website offers information on smoke-free advocacy and other public policy measures to reduce tobacco use, including information on tobacco industry tactics.
The Alberta-based website of ASH includes information related to Alberta tobacco control advocacy.
The Non-Smokers' Rights Association promotes health through prevention.
This Health Canada site offers statistics on tobacco use from the Canadian Tobacco Use Monitoring Survey (CTUMS), as well as general tobacco information including online support to help people quit smoking.
This website for and by youth offers information on the tobacco industry manipulation of youth and denormalizes the tobacco industry.
The Truth Initiative website includes fact sheets, reports and a resource gallery of effective tobacco control messages.
The U.S. Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids website provides general information on state and national campaigns and the tobacco industry.
Take action! Learn more about our current tobacco advocacy work at takeaction.cancer.ca.
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Printed: February 17, 2020
The information that the Canadian Cancer Society provides does not replace your relationship with your doctor. The information is for your general use, so be sure to talk to a qualified healthcare professional before making medical decisions or if you have questions about your health. We do our best to make sure that the information we provide is accurate and reliable but cannot guarantee that it is error-free or complete. The Canadian Cancer Society is not responsible for the quality of the information or services provided by other organizations and mentioned on cancer.ca, nor do we endorse any service, product, treatment or therapy.