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Healthy Caribbean Coalition - Harper Government to strengthen and enlarge health warnings on cigarette packages

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December 30, 2010 For immediate release OTTAWA - The Harper Government announced today it intends to launch updated, larger health warning messages and a toll-free quitline on cigarette and little cigar packages that will be the backbone of a social marketing campaign to encourage smokers to quit. The announcement was made by the Honourable Leona Aglukkaq, Minister of Health and Pierre Poilievre, Member of Parliament for Nepean-Carleton.

"The combination of larger health warning messages and social marketing will help the new messages reach as many smokers as possible," said Minister Aglukkaq. "This comprehensive strategy will ensure Canada remains a world leader in tobacco control initiatives."

"Giving Canadians the straight-up goods on the dangers of tobacco use in a more prominent and visible way through larger, more effective tobacco warning labels is a significant step in our ongoing battle to reduce tobacco consumption and, ultimately, cardiovascular disease," said Irfhan Rawji, chair of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. "The Foundation commends the federal government for this important step in encouraging Canadians to be smoke-free and live healthier, longer lives."

At a news conference today, Minister Aglukkaq unveiled four of the initial new, stronger messages and committed to a rotation of messages so that they avoid losing effectiveness over time.

"We applaud the Health Minister's commitment to require tougher warning labels on tobacco products," said Heather Borquez, President and CEO of the Canadian Lung Association. "Strong, graphic health warnings on cigarette packages are a key part of the broad effort needed to keep young people from smoking and encourage existing smokers to quit."

Key features of the new label requirements include:

New, larger graphic health warnings that will feature new diseases and, for the first time, testimonials from individuals affected by tobacco use. The warnings will cover 75% of the front and back of cigarette and little cigar packages, up from the current 50%.

A pan-Canadian quitline and web URL. Provisional on provincial and territorial agreement, Health Canada intends to include on packages a pan-Canadian quitline number and web URL that would seamlessly connect smokers to provincial and territorial phone cessation support services.

Improved health information messages and toxic emission statements. The addition of colour and graphics to health information messages will make them more noticeable, while new toxic emission statements will be easier to understand.

In addition to the labelling changes, Health Canada is developing a social marketing campaign targeting smokers, including young adults. Multimedia, including social networks across the Web, will be used to reach teenagers and young adults.

The new health warning messages will build on the success of the Cracking Down on Tobacco Marketing Aimed At Youth Act. The Act, which became law in October 2009, makes it harder for industry to entice young people to smoke. The messages will also complement new and existing cessation and prevention initiatives, resulting in a comprehensive and integrated approach to tobacco control.

Tobacco use costs the Canadian health care systems $4.4 billion a year in direct costs and continues to kill 37,000 Canadians every year.

Media Enquiries:
Health Canada
(613) 957-2983
Office of the Honourable Leona Aglukkaq
Federal Minister of Health
(613) 957-0200
Public Enquiries:
(613) 957-2991
1-866 225-0709

Fact Sheet

Stronger health warning messages on cigarette and little cigar packages

December 2010 In 2011, the Government of Canada will propose new regulations that will strengthen package labelling requirements for cigarettes and little cigars. The proposed regulations would build on the achievements of the current health warning messages under the Tobacco Products Information Regulations.

Research shows that the current messages, implemented in 2000, have reached their maximum potential. The new labelling requirements include several features designed to increase smokers' awareness of the health hazards associated with tobacco use and further support smokers in their efforts to quit. An associated marketing campaign will help extend the reach of the new messages, especially among young adults.

New, larger health warning messages

Canadian and international research has shown that larger warnings, with pictures, are more likely to be noticed, better communicate health risks, provoke greater emotional response, and further motivate tobacco users to quit. Increasing the size of health warnings to 75% of the front and back of packages from the current 50% will allow for larger text and images, as well as, with provincial and territorial agreement, a quitline number and web URL on every pack.

The new warnings will:

  • highlight a new set of tobacco-related diseases, such as bladder cancer and macular degeneration;
  • feature improved literacy levels; and
  • include a variety of styles and approaches to appeal to different age groups.

In all, Health Canada intends to introduce 16 new, stronger messages for the new labels, and will finalize the selection in the coming months.

To keep them effective, Health Canada intends to rotate health warning messages every four years. Health warning messages for future rotations would be introduced prior to the next rotation.


Health Canada's public opinion research studies indicate that one way to make health warnings effective is to present compelling stories and "testimonials" from people, such as the late anti-smoking activist Barb Tarbox, who have been affected by tobacco use. The health warnings that use testimonials were rated very high by smokers who participated in the studies.

Pan-Canadian quitline and smoking cessation web portal

International practice shows that combining a health warning message with contact information for cessation assistance on every pack is the most effective way to reach the greatest number of smokers. Provisional on provincial and territorial agreement, the proposed new pan-Canadian quitline would seamlessly redirect callers to the quitline service of their respective province or territory. These services provide free, telephone-based cessation counselling in both official languages.

Likewise, the web portal URL would appear on every pack and will offer additional online support.

The pan-Canadian quitline number and website on cigarette and little cigar packaging would expand the reach of provincial and territorial cessation services and is expected to result in increased calls.

Improved health information messages and toxic emission statements

A health information message provides information on the health benefits of quitting, the quitting process and cessation tools. It is located on the back panel of the cigarette slide-and-shell pack, or on a leaflet in the flip-top pack. There is also a "teaser" located on the upper slide flap of the slide and shell pack, to attract the smoker to read the health information message.

The proposed new health information messages have been reoriented to include positive cessation messages. They are more action-oriented and dramatically enhanced with the use of new colour and graphics elements to increase visibility. They will appear on the same display surface as current ones.

The current toxic emission statement lists numerical quantities for six toxic substances found in tobacco smoke. The statement is displayed on the side of most packs. Research indicates that existing statements are not noticed and many people find them confusing. The proposed new statements provide clear, concise and easy-to-understand information about the number of toxic substances found in tobacco smoke, in plain language that will be more accessible to all audiences. Marketing The social marketing campaign will target smokers, including young adults, with tobacco cessation messages. A multimedia approach will be used to reach and engage the target audience. The social media component will deliver more targeted messaging to a greater range of audiences, and engage in a dialogue with smokers at a time when they are making critical health choices.

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