Monthly Archives: February 2016

Jump in calls to Smokers’ Helpline after toll-free number included on cigarette packaging

A study supported by the Canadian Cancer Society has found a major jump in calls to a Smokers’ Helpline after its telephone number was included on all packaging for cigarettes, as a result of a federal regulation from Health Canada.

The study began in March 2012 when the new national regulation regarding cigarette package warnings came into effect. This regulation included enlarging pictorial health warnings from 50% to 75% of the package, as well as including a toll-free quitline telephone number and website address. Smokers’ Helpline provides support, tips, and strategies for quitting smoking and tobacco use, as well as information and assistance to smokers, former smokers, and their families and friends.

In the first 7 months of the study of Ontario’s Smokers’ Helpline there was a 160% increase in the number of calls to the quitline and a sustained increase of 80% in the months following the implementation of the regulation. New callers receiving treatment after calling the quitline also increased by 174%. Calls to Ontario’s Smokers’ Helpline, operated by the Canadian Cancer Society, were measured through to December 2013.

“Studies show that a large number of smokers not only have inadequate knowledge of the health effects of smoking, but are not aware of the free and effective population-based cessation services such as quitlines,” says Dr Bruce Baskerville, who led the study at Propel Centre for Population Health Impact at the University of Waterloo. “This study has provided the evidence that advertising quitline numbers on packages leads to smokers taking action to stop smoking, thereby cutting their risk of cancer.”

Results from this study also affirm how important cigarette packaging can be in communicating with smokers.

“The large increase in calls to the quitline reinforces the importance of the 2012 expansion of the health warning size to 75% of the package, front and back,” says Rob Cunningham, senior policy analyst, Canadian Cancer Society. “The extra space allows for the quitline number and website to be included.”

These findings also support the implementation of plain packaging in Canada, where health warnings and pictures would appear on plain packages together with a standard colour for the branded section, such as the brown required in Australia. Package dimensions would be standardized, thus eliminating slim and superslim packs targeting women.

“Colourful, attractive brand portions of the package should not be able to distract from the health warning and quitline number that discourage tobacco,” says Cunningham. “We applaud the federal government’s commitment to require tobacco plain packaging in Canada.”

So far, plain packaging has been adopted for implementation in Australia, Ireland, the United Kingdom and France, and Canada’s federal government has committed to implement plain packaging.

“Modifiable risk factors like smoking account for over half of all cancer deaths,” says Dr. Stephen Robbins, scientific director of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Institute for Cancer Research. “Increasing the size of health warnings and adding the quitline telephone number to cigarette packaging has the potential to decrease the cancer burden in this country and save lives.”

“Impact of Canadian tobacco packaging policy on use of toll-free quit-smoking line: an interrupted time series analysis” was funded by the CIHR. The study was published in CMAJ Open, the online journal from the Canadian Medical Association Journal and can be accessed here.

Founded by the Canadian Cancer Society and University of Waterloo, the Propel Centre for Population Health Impact is a pan-Canadian platform for engaged scholarship to prevent cancers, other chronic disease and their behavioural and environmental causes. Propel leads and catalyzes relevant and rigorous studies, and moves evidence into action.

About Smokers’ Helpline
Smokers’ Helpline is a free service that provides non-judgmental personalized support, tips, and strategies for quitting smoking and tobacco use. Smokers’ Helpline offers assistance and information to smokers, former smokers, and their friends and family by telephone and online. In Ontario service is also offered by text messaging. The Canadian Cancer Society provides quitline services under the Smokers’ Helpline brand in 5 provinces (Ontario, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick and PEI) and one territory (Yukon). To learn more call the phone number on cigarette packages (1-866-366-3667) or visit

About the Canadian Cancer Society
The Canadian Cancer Society is a national, community-based organization of volunteers whose mission is to eradicate cancer and enhance the quality of life of people living with cancer. Thanks to our donors and volunteers, the Society has the most impact, against the most cancers, in the most communities in Canada. For more information, visit or call our toll-free bilingual Cancer Information Service at 1-888-939-3333 (TTY 1-866-786-3934).

For further information: Rosie Hales, Communications specialist, Canadian Cancer Society, National Office, 416-934-5338,

Source: CNW, Canadian Cancer Society (February 9, 2016)

Canada to introduce plain packaging requirements

Prepare to say goodbye to royal blue Belmonts, ruby red Du Mauriers, and burgundy Dunhills.

In hopes of curbing national smoking rates, Health Minister Jane Philpott has announced the federal government “will introduce new plain-packaging requirements for tobacco products.” These requirements could prohibit “brand colours, logos, and graphics” on cigarette boxes and cartons.

If the Liberals’ policy is fulfilled, every cigarette pack in Canada will have the same uniform look and colour; its only distinguishing feature will be a brand name, printed in small letters at the bottom of the product.

This anti-smoking initiative will almost certainly be annoying for convenience store owners who, having memorized every cigarette logo in their stocks, might one day be forced to squint at hundreds of labels in order to select the right box. But by all other accounts, the government’s plan is ingenious. Here’s why. Plain packaging won’t likely convince Canadians to quit smoking, but it might dissuade them from taking up the habit to begin with.

This is because while the new mandate won’t warn people about the dangers of smoking (which they already know by now) it does something more powerful. It erodes brand loyalty to tobacco companies, and chips away at the only thing that makes cigarettes appealing to first time smokers in the first place: their cool factor.

Teenagers don’t start smoking to alleviate stress. They start smoking because they think it’s cool. And a big part of what makes cigarettes sexy and popularity-inducing is the box they arrive in. This is a reality well known to tobacco companies: the pack of cigarettes in your purse is a significant marker of social status and class.

Where I grew up, north of Toronto, Belmont cigarettes were the staple brand of the popular, affluent woman. When I attended Dalhousie University in Halifax, the same stereotype prevailed: if you smoked Belmonts you were assumed to be a wealthy, stuck up Toronto girl. If you smoked Canadians, on the other hand, you were assumed to be local and down to earth. If you smoked Dunhills, you were assumed to be sketchy, but rich; if you smoked Peter Jacksons, you were assumed to be sketchy and poor. If you smoked Vogues you were old, and probably Russian. And so on.

These perceptions do not die. In the words of Jonathan MacArthur, a 26-year-old native of P.E.I. who lives in Toronto, “(The Belmont smoker) is a Torontonian who doesn’t mind spending money on an expensive pack of king sized charcoal filtered smokes. She has no idea what a charcoal filter means, but she doesn’t care. She likes to turn up on the weekends in Queen West; she probably only buys pink or black lighters.”

These cigarette brand stereotypes are not merely the product of our imagination: According to a study by the National Cancer Institute in the United States, “youth-popular (tobacco) brands convey an image of smokers of those brands as popular and admired. The companies believe that conveying that popular people smoke their brand motivates the choice of that brand.”

But if you can no longer clearly identify a brand, the social cachet associated with it ceases to exist. If the government institutes a new model in which tobacco logos are near impossible to make out, the social markers associated with those logos might erode — and with them, the appeal of smoking for people driven and seduced by brand identity. This is a very good thing. So, too, is the fact that Australia, the first country to institute a plain packaging policy in 2012, saw a noticeable drop in tobacco consumption.

In the end, it’s unlikely that plain packaging will dissuade tried and true addicts from buying cigarettes, or teens committed to the act. It’s also entirely possible that in the absence of explicit branding, young people will simply become more discriminating in the judgment of their peers. Who knows: maybe they’ll begin inspecting brand names on packs of cigarettes the same way they inspect labels on hand bags.
But it’s also entirely possible that the new world of plain packaging will dismantle popular assumptions associated with cigarette brands. And for the teen whose interest in smoking is purely status-driven, the thrill of lighting up will dissipate. Vices without perks lose their lustre fast.

Source: Emma Teitel, The Star (January 29, 2016)

France passes plain packaging law

Cigarettes in France will be sold in plain packaging under a law that was finally passed in parliament on Thursday despite objections from the conservative opposition.

Starting in May 2016, the brand name will appear but in a small, uniform typeface and packets will be shorn of logos.

With backing from the ruling Socialists and the Greens, the text finally came into law after mainly conservative senators added amendments to the draft that was first voted in April, which would allow the brand name to appear in small letters.

The senate had initially demanded that the neutral packaging clause be removed from the draft legislation.

Around a quarter of French adults indulge in the hazardous habit, according to the World Health Organisation, and one third of teenagers also smoke.

Nine years ago, France controversially banned smoking in enclosed public spaces, including bars and restaurants. And only last month, Paris authorities doubled fines for dropping cigarette butts to 68 euros (£50/$75) in a city where some 350 tonnes of them are collected annually.

Last year, health minister Marisol Touraine estimated some 13 million people still light up in France and that smoking accounts for around 78,000 deaths, the leading cause of premature death in the country.

All cigarettes will from May next year have to be sold in neutral packaging of uniform size and colour in a move that is notably similar to legislation adopted in Australia three years ago.

The United Kingdom and Ireland have since followed suit.

Source: Agence France-Presse, The Guardian (December 18, 2015)