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Every Canadian cigarette will soon carry a health warning

Canada will soon print warning labels directly on cigarettes in a world-first, the country’s health agency announced.

New packaging will feature a warning on each cigarette with phrases like: “Cigarettes cause cancer” and “Poison in every puff”.

The regulation will come into effect on 1 August, Health Canada said.

It is part of an effort to reduce tobacco use in Canada to less than 5% by 2035.

In an announcement on Wednesday, Health Canada said the new regulations “will make it virtually impossible to avoid health warnings” on tobacco products.

The health agency anticipates that by April 2025, retailers in Canada will only carry tobacco products that feature the new warning labels directly on the cigarettes.

Products that will have labels on tipping paper include individual cigarettes, little cigars, tubes and other tobacco products, Health Canada said.

The move follows a 75-day public consultation period that was launched last year.

Warning labels are already printed on cigarette package covers. Health Canada said it plans to expand on those by printing additional warning labels inside the packages themselves, and introducing a new external warning messages.

In a statement, Canada’s minister of mental health and addictions, Carolyn Bennett, said tobacco use kills around 48,000 Canadians each year.

“We are taking action by being the first country in the world to label individual cigarettes with health warning messages,” Ms Bennett said, calling the change a “bold step”.

Photo of Canada's new cigarette warning labels, featuring images and text on the outside of the packaging and labels on individual cigarettes
Canada has required printing warning labels on cigarette packages in 1989. They have since been expanded to include photos and information cards inside packs

The move was applauded by the Canadian Cancer Society, Canada’s Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Canadian Lung Association, who said they hope the measures will deter people, especially youth, from taking up smoking.

Cigarette smoking is widely regarded as a risk factor for lung cancer, heart disease and stroke.

Canada has required the printing of warning labels on cigarette packages since 1989, though it was behind the UK, which printed warnings as early as 1971.

The US was the first nation in the world to require health warnings on cigarette packages, passing its Federal Cigarette Labelling and Advertising Act in 1965.

Labels in all three countries have evolved over the years, notably to include sometimes graphic images in addition to text to show the health consequences of smoking.

Since the US introduced warning labels, the smoking rate has significantly decreased. Some studies, however, have found that labels are not a deterrent for people who have a high nicotine dependence.

According to data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 42% of US adults were smokers in the mid-1960s. In 2021, that number dropped to a historic low of 11%. However, electronic cigarette use appeared to have risen.

In Canada, the rate of smokers aged 15 years or older is around 10%, according to a national 2021 Tobacco and Nicotine survey. Like the US, the survey revealed vaping rates to be higher at around 17%. –