Plain cig­a­rette packs to hit Cana­dian shelves

‘Best in the world’ reg­u­la­tions kick in as lo­gos and de­signs dis­ap­pear from pack­ag­ing

The Peterborough Examiner - - BUSINESS - AD­INA BRESGE

Smok­ers will soon see their cig­a­rette packs stripped of lo­gos and dis­tinc­tive de­signs as fed­eral rules make drab brown the de­fault colour for to­bacco brands next week.

Plain-pack­aged cig­a­rettes have started to pop up on shelves as the to­bacco in­dus­try pre­pares for Health Canada’s reg­u­la­tions to take ef­fect on Nov. 9, af­ter which re­tail­ers will have a 90-day win­dow to off­load their re­main­ing in­ven­tory. All pack­ag­ing will fea­ture the same brown base colour, ba­sic grey text and min­i­mal­ist lay­out un­der the new re­quire­ments. The mea­sures will also stan­dard­ize the size and ap­pear­ance of cig­a­rettes, cigars and other prod­ucts inside the pack­ages.

Health ex­perts and ad­vo­cates say the pol­icy po­si­tions Canada at the fore­front of a global push to curb the ap­peal of cig­a­rette brands, par­tic­u­larly among youth, and elim­i­nate pack­ages as pocket-sized pro­mo­tions for Big To­bacco.

Rob Cun­ning­ham, a se­nior pol­icy an­a­lyst at the Cana­dian Can­cer So­ci­ety, lauded Canada’s plain-pack­ag­ing reg­u­la­tions as “the best in the world,” hav­ing learned from the ex­am­ples of at least13 other coun­tries that have adopted sim­i­lar mea­sures.

Cun­ning­ham adds that Canada is lead­ing the charge in elim­i­nat­ing ex­tra-long and “slim” cig­a­rettes, which tend to be mar­keted to women.

In 2021, slide-and-shell pack­ages will be­come manda­tory in Canada, pro­vid­ing a wider sur­face area that will dis­play the largest health warn­ings in the world, he said.

“This mea­sure is go­ing to have an im­por­tant dif­fer­ence, es­pe­cially over time,” said Cun­ning­ham. “We will have kids who will grow up not ex­posed to branded pack­ages.”

As reg­u­la­tors have cracked down on many forms of to­bacco ad­ver­tis­ing, pack­ages have be­come pow­er­ful brand­ing tools to ap­peal to con­sumers, said Uni­ver­sity of Water­loo psy­chol­ogy pro­fes­sor Geoffrey Fong.

“The pack­age de­signs (are) re­ally amaz­ingly glitzy and very at­trac­tive, es­pe­cially to kids,” said Fong, the founder and chief prin­ci­pal in­ves­ti­ga­tor of the In­ter­na­tional To­bacco Con­trol Pol­icy Eval­u­a­tion Project. “What we’ve found is that plain pack­ag­ing has tremen­dous ef­fects on re­duc­ing the ap­peal of these deadly prod­ucts.”

Fong said cig­a­rette pack­ages are de­signed to de­ceive con­sumers into think­ing some brands are less harm­ful than oth­ers.

For ex­am­ple, he said, stud­ies in­di­cate that cig­a­rette pack­ages with light colours and white space are per­ceived to have lower health risks than dark-toned prod­ucts.

Fong said there’s ev­i­dence sug­gest­ing that plain pack­ag­ing re­duces these mis­con­cep­tions, while mak­ing health warn­ings more salient by elim­i­nat­ing eye-catch­ing dis­trac­tions.

In his own re­search, Fong found that less than 29 per cent of Cana­dian smok­ers were in favour of plain pack­ag­ing — a lower level of sup­port than any other “endgame” to­bacco mea­sure tested in the 2016 sur­vey.

He in­ter­prets this re­sult not as op­po­si­tion to the pol­icy, but uncer­tainty about what it will en­tail, pro­ject­ing that ap­proval will rise as smok­ers ac­cli­mate to the new norm.

To­bacco man­u­fac­tur­ers ex­pect there will be a learn­ing curve as con­sumers ad­just to the new look, and in some cases, new names of their pre­ferred brands.

For ex­am­ple, Bel­mont Sil­ver will be known as Bel­mont Se­lect un­der the new rules for brand names pro­hibit­ing ref­er­ences to colours or fil­ter char­ac­ter­is­tics.

Jeff Gaulin, direc­tor of ex­ter­nal af­fairs at Roth­mans, Ben­son & Hedges, said the com­pany has been work­ing to en­sure that re­tail­ers are aware of the changes by up­dat­ing the names in its or­der­ing sys­tem months in ad­vance, as well as set­ting up a web­site for con­sumers to find out what prod­ucts will be af­fected.

“I think things will go pretty smoothly,” said Gaulin. “That said, there will still be some hic­cups ... There may be short­ages, but if there are, I think they’ll be very, very min­i­mal.”

While he said Roth­mans, Ben­son & Hedges doesn’t op­pose plain pack­ag­ing for con­ven­tional cig­a­rettes, Im­pe­rial To­bacco Canada ob­jects to the pol­icy on sev­eral fronts, said head of reg­u­la­tory af­fairs Eric Gagnon.

“You’re chang­ing the en­tire sup­ply chain,” said Gagnon. “It’s not like you just turn a key on and off. You need to change all your art­work, all your equip­ment, re­tool all your ma­chines, so ob­vi­ously, it’s very costly and a very com­plex op­er­a­tion.”

Gagnon con­tends that plain pack­ag­ing doesn’t work and boosts the il­licit sale of to­bacco prod­ucts.

Other in­dus­try mem­bers have mounted sim­i­lar crit­i­cisms, which the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion has de­scribed as “base­less” and “not sup­ported by the ev­i­dence.”

Gagnon de­clined to com­ment on whether Im­pe­rial To­bacco is con­sid­er­ing chal­leng­ing the reg­u­la­tions in court, but Cun­ning­ham of the Cana­dian Can­cer So­ci­ety notes that to­bacco com­pa­nies have been fight­ing plain pack­ag­ing in Canada since pub­lic-health of­fi­cials first put for­ward pro­pos­als in 1994.

In the 25 years since, Cun­ning­ham said ef­forts have been bol­stered by a grow­ing body of ev­i­dence sug­gest­ing these poli­cies have had an im­pact.

“All of these coun­tries wouldn’t be do­ing this in the face of strong op­po­si­tion from the to­bacco in­dus­try if it wouldn’t work,” he said. “It’s a highly ef­fec­tive mea­sure, and that’s why they’ve op­posed it for so long, and that’s why we place great em­pha­sis on it.”

The new mea­sures will stan­dard­ize the size and ap­pear­ance of to­bacco prod­ucts.

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