Canada is poised to become the first country in the world to require a health warning be printed on every cigarette.
It follows the inclusion of graphic photo warnings on tobacco products’ packaging – a policy that started an international trend when it was introduced two decades ago.
The UK introduced the same in 2008.
Canadian minister of mental health and addictions Carolyn Bennett said new impetus was needed because the photos “may have lost their novelty… and may have lost their impact as well”.
She said adding health warnings to individual cigarettes would ensure messages reach people, including the young who “often access cigarettes one at a time in social situations, sidestepping the information printed on a package”.
A consultation period for the proposed change is due to begin, and the government anticipates the changes coming into force in the latter half of 2023.
While the exact messaging printed on cigarettes could change, Ms Bennett said the current proposal is: “Poison in every puff.”
She also revealed expanded warnings for cigarette packages that include a longer list of smoking’s health effects, including stomach cancer, colorectal cancer, diabetes, and peripheral vascular disease.
Canada has required the photo warnings since the turn of the millennium, but the images haven’t been updated in a decade.
Rob Cunningham, senior policy analyst with the Canadian Cancer Society, said he hoped the warnings printed directly on cigarettes become popular internationally, just like the package warnings did.
“This is going to set a world precedent,” he said, adding no other country has implemented such regulations.
The move also drew praise from Geoffrey Fong, a professor at the University of Waterloo and principal investigator with the International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Project.
“This is a really potentially powerful intervention that’s going to enhance the impact of health warnings,” he said.
Smoking rates have been steadily falling in Canada. The latest data from Statistics Canada, released last month, shows 10% of Canadians reported smoking regularly.
The government is seeking to cut that rate in half by 2035.