Are Canada’s New Individual Cigarette Warnings Effective?

Experts in the field of tobacco harm reduction highlight the futility of Canada's recently implemented measure, meant to deter people from smoking.

Last June, Health Canada announced that tobacco manufacturers would be required to place warnings on individual cigarettes, such as “Cigarettes cause cancer” and “Poison in every puff.” The requirement went into effect on August 1st and is part of ongoing efforts to reduce local smoking rates to less than 5% by 2035.

The aim is that by April 2025, retailers in Canada will only have in stock cigarettes with the new warnings. Canadian THR activist, Prof. David Sweanor, had told Vaping Post that in his opinion these messages would not make a difference. “Fear-based messages without clear, specific and effective means to reduce the danger are well known to be ineffective.”

Cigarette warnings have never worked
Renowned expert in the field of tobacco harm reduction (THR) Martin Cullip agrees. He recently wrote that while the measure is well intentioned, it “reeks of pointlessness and misdirection.” He added that this bill is condescending in that it assumes that that smokers are oblivious to the risks of cigarettes. “This infantilising of adult consumers is not only condescending but divorced from the reality of addiction and individual choice.”

Most would agree with this statement, as we have yet to come across a smoker who has stopped smoking after being illuminated or put off by cigarette warnings. On the contrary, explained Cullip, when consumers are inundated with warnings, they tend to become desensitized, and the warnings become less striking and effective.

In other news, researcher and clinical Associate Professor at the University of Calgary Dr. Patricia Smith, had highlighted that while smoking is the main cause of preventable death in Canada and is more prevalent in certain parts of Ontario, most cessation strategies and therapies are evidently not effective.

Smith said that most programs just consist of basic counselling and nicotine therapies. “When we say ‘stop smoking’ … all we’re doing is giving people advice and not helping them set the stage,” said Smith. “You really need what we call intensive programs — programs that have at least eight sessions with them.”

Young people are more likely to be vapers than smokers. Isn’t that a positive thing?
Meanwhile, Statistics Canada had revealed that young people in Canada are more likely to having tried vaping, as opposed to smoking, than their older counterparts. The statistics agency reported that in 2021, 12% of youth aged 15 to 19 and 17% of 20 to 24 year-olds said they had vaped, in comparison to just 4% of adults aged 25 or older. While 6 out of 10 Canadian youth aged 15 to 19 and more than 25% of young adults aged 20 to 24 have never tried a cigarette.

Sadly, making some references to inaccurate facts such as the alleged risks between vaping and heart disease, the agency revealed this data in a concerning tone. “While vaping may be less harmful than the inhalation of smoke from tobacco, it poses risks of nicotine dependence, other substance use, and respiratory and cardiovascular disease,” said Statistics Canada. “It is feared that the widespread adoption of vaping may undermine longer-term reductions in smoking and lead to the re-normalization of tobacco use.”

Countless peer reviewed studies have explained that as long as the increase in vaping is leading to a decrease in smoking, health authorities should not be concerned. Teenagers will always be drawn to experimentation and the ones with the personality type to do so would be experimenting with riskier nicotine products in the absence of vapes. Viewed in this manner, the products should be considered beneficial to public health.