News releases

July 31, 2007

New tobacco packaging shows need for stronger laws

(Ottawa) –  Responding to the way in which tobacco companies have implemented a voluntary agreement to ban misleading words on cigarette packages, a group of Canadian doctors is calling for tougher measures based in law.  July 31, 2007 is the date on which tobacco companies agreed to remove the deceptive labels 'light' and 'mild' from their cigarette packages as part of an agreement with the Competition Bureau.

When the Bureau released its secretly-negotiated deal with Big tobacco last November, Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada predicted that the secret deal was so poorly written that it would allow the companies to continue to deceive their customers, all the while pretending that they had done something good for public health. (see earlier press release)

"As predicted, the companies have not ended the deception," explained Dr. Atul Kapur, president of Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada.  "The tobacco companies have merely replaced the words 'light,' and 'mild' with other marketing terms"  (See below for illustrations of changes made to leading brands).

 The health group points out that the companies:

  • continue to use colours and packaging elements that falsely convey differences in strength, such as the use of lighter colours or more white space to falsely imply that these products are less harmful.

  • continue to prominently display misleading numbers on packages that falsely convey differences in the amount of compounds inhaled between brands or sub-brands of cigarettes, and that fail to tell consumers how much they are inhaling.

  • continue to market and display cigarettes in ways that falsely conveys distinctions between types of cigarettes (such as displaying them in a 'higher' to 'lower' placement)

  • continue to use 'brand extensions' (several types of one brand of cigarettes) that falsely convey distinctions between types of cigarettes.

  • continue to use cigarette designs and related packaging that falsely convey a smoking experience of ‘less hazardous' smoking, while in reality they are inhaling just as much poison as ever.

"The recent decision of the Supreme Court should give the federal government confidence that it can move meaningfully to remove all these forms of deception," suggested Dr. Kapur. 

The Court firmly rejected a tobacco industry challenge to the section of the federal law which says that packaging cannot be "likely to create an erroneous impression about the characteristics, health effects or health hazards of the tobacco product or its emissions."  In its ruling, the Supreme Court had harsh words for the tobacco industry practice of using package terms to reassure smokers:

The creative ability of the manufacturers to send positive messages about a product widely known to be noxious is impressive. In recent years, for example, manufacturers have used labels such as “additive free” and “100% Canadian tobacco” to convey the impression that their product is wholesome and healthful. Technically, the labels may be true. But their intent and effect is to falsely lull consumers into believing, as they ask for the package behind the counter, that the product they will consume will not harm them, or at any rate will harm them less than would other tobacco products, despite evidence demonstrating that products bearing these labels are in fact no safer than other tobacco products.

...  The industry practice of promoting tobacco consumption by inducing consumers to draw false inference about the safety of the products is widespread. 

Dr. Kapur reflected that six years had passed since  the companies were asked by a former Health Minister (Allan Rock) to 'voluntarily' remove deceptive terms from cigarette packages by September 2001.  "The time has come for meaningful regulation, meaningful package reform, and a meaningful end to the marketing ploys of a dangerous industry," said Kapur.

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For information: 
Cynthia Callard, Executive Director, 613 233 4878

Information sources

Illustrative packaging changes (photos taken from material provided to retailers by Imperial Tobacco and JTI MacDonald)`

click for larger image