File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS A person smokes a cigarette in downtown Ottawa. Health Canada says cigarette packs will have to be plain drab brown with standardized layouts and lettering, starting in November. The government says plain packages will increase the impact of graphic health warnings about the dangers of smoking, keeping them from getting lost amid colourful designs and branding.

Health Canada sets plain-packaging rules for tobacco, to take effect in November

OTTAWA — Canadian cigarette packs will have to be plain drab brown with standardized layouts and lettering under new rules that kick in next Nov. 9, Health Canada says.

Officials said plain packages will increase the impact of graphic health warnings about the dangers of smoking, keeping them from getting lost amid colourful designs and branding.

The government wants to stop cigarette companies from using their packs as tiny ads for their products, insisting even on a single shape and design for the packs themselves — meaning soft packs are out, as are creative designs with bevelled edges and any other distinctive features.

Health Canada picked the same dark brown for the packages as Australia did for its tobacco products a few years ago, one identified by market researchers as the ugliest colour in the world. Several European countries have used the colour as well.

“Packages with darker colours were perceived to be more ‘harmful to health’ and their products ‘harder to quit,’ in contrast to packages with lighter colours,” the department said in a summary of the plans.

Health Canada said there could be a shortage of the new packs in the early going as a very limited number of suppliers retool to make just one design instead of many different ones.

The regulations released Wednesday also standardize the size and appearance of cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco products inside the packages.

Specific rules have been awaited since Parliament passed a law requiring them last fall, joining 13 other countries that have adopted similar measures.

The new rules are part of a larger strategy aimed at driving the rate of tobacco use among Canadians down to five per cent by 2035. Federal statistics show that in 2017, 18 per cent of Canadians over the age of 15 said they used tobacco in the previous month, an increase of 15 per cent from 2015.

The Canadian Cancer Society praised the government’s regulations, calling them “the best and most comprehensive in the world.”

On the flip side, the industry association representing convenience stores said plain packaging increases the appeal of contraband tobacco products and makes them harder to distinguish from legally marketed ones.

“Instead of addressing the 20 per cent of tobacco that is sold illegally in Canada, government is adding one more burden to law-abiding retailers who don’t sell to minors, comply with display bans, and partner with government to collect and remit most of the $9 billion in tobacco tax revenue every year,” Anne Kothawala, president of the Convenience Industry Council of Canada, said in a statement.

Imperial Tobacco Canada’s head of regulatory affairs, Eric Gagnon, said the Australian model is a failure.

“Despite what some Canadian anti-tobacco lobbyists will claim, plain tobacco packaging has been tried, tested and failed, and it will have the same result in Canada,” Gagnon said. “The plain packaging experiments in Australia, New Zealand, France and the United Kingdom have yielded the same results: plain tobacco packaging does not work.”

According to periodic snapshot surveys by the Australian government’s Institute of Health and Welfare, the proportions of daily, occasional and very occasional smokers in the population all declined between 2013 and 2016, one and four years after its plain-packaging rules kicked in, though the long-term trend of declining smoking also slowed.

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