Canada unveils gruesome cigarette pack warnings

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OTTAWA--Cancerous lungs and diseased hearts are among the "compelling" and graphic color photos planned for use in tough new health warnings on cigarette packages in Canada.

New tobacco-labeling rules formally announced Jan. 19 call for the biggerand often gruesome health warnings to replace written health messages used on Canadian cigarette packages since 1990.

Canadian Health Minister Allan Rock calls the new regulations ground-breaking and cites positive reactions to the graphic warnings from focus groups conducted with adult and youth smokers.

"The cigarette package is one of the most important marketing and communications tools available to the industry," says Mr. Rock, who expects to bring the labeling measures to Canada's Parliament this summer.

"With these hard-hitting health messages and compelling graphics, we will reach smokers directly and effectively," he said.

The 16 new warnings, which all feature stark headlines, include an illustration of a limp cigarette to warn about smoking-caused impotence, a photograph of a brain with clogged arteries and a cancer-ridden mouth.

Other less-graphic warnings include a picture of a pregnant woman smoking and the tagline "Smoking hurts babies". Another shows two laughing children and the copy: "Don't poison us".

Under the proposed regulations, warnings would cover 50% of a cigarette package, up from the 33% to 38% requirement now in place. Various stop-smoking information would also slide out of the inside of the packs on the cover sleeve when smokers remove a cigarette.

Canada's tobacco marketers argue that the proposed requirements would be a "logistical nightmare" and say production limitations make it impossible to print packages with the new health warnings.

"We question the effectiveness of this kind of negative messaging," says David Laundy, VP of the Canadian Tobacco Manufacturers' Council, representing marketers Imperial Tobacco, JTI-Macdonald and the company Rothmans, Benson & Hedges.

"As a matter of principle, we're supportive of health warnings on packages," says Mr. Laundy. "The experience of the last 10 years of very strong negative messages ... is that smoking prevalence has not changed at all."

Already the tobacco marketers are considering a court challenge, suggesting that the new, larger warnings may infringe on trademark protection by squeezing out brand identities.

"Imagine if you took away half the branding on a bottle of beer," says Mr. Laundy.

Anti-smoking groups and health advocates hail Health Canada's proposed warnings as potentially the most effective stop-smoking initiative ever seen in Canada.

New focus-group research released by the Canadian Cancer Society reports that health warnings with graphic photos were as much as seven to 11 times more effective in discouraging smoking.

Copyright January 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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