Healthy Living in the North

Get ready for plain packaging in Canada

Two cigarette boxes in the new plain packaging.

Plain packaging comes into effect in Canada on November 9, 2019. (Photo credit: Canadian Cancer Society)

Here’s a fact you might already know: Commercial tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in Canada and has negative health effects for all ages.

Here’s a fact you might not know: Across Canada, tobacco product packages will be stripped of all bright colours and logos, and will now be a plain brown default colour.

Plain packaging starts November 9 in Canada

Health Canada regulations for plain packaging take effect on November 9, 2019. At the manufacturer’s level, retailers will have a 90-day grace window to sell off their remaining coloured inventory. As of February 7, 2020, we will no longer see colour or design that have long been used to lure new users and create brand loyalty in the tobacco world.

What it will look like

All tobacco packaging will feature the same brown base colour, basic grey text, and minimalist layout under the new requirements. The size and appearance of cigarettes, cigars, and other products inside the packages will also be standardized.

This regulation is limiting the tobacco industry’s ability to advertise and market their products through attractive packaging. Research has shown that plain and standardized tobacco packaging reduces the appeal of tobacco products, particularly among youth. For example: the colour green in the tobacco world has traditionally been linked to menthol products, or so-called “slim” products, for female consumers. Slims and superslims, which critics say falsely promotes a less harmful tobacco product, will be banned by February 7, 2020, at the retailer level.

Packaging boxes will change too

In November 2021, the use of a cigarette box format known as “slide and shell” will be mandatory, though there will be a transition period for implementation. This is to enhance the size and impact of health warnings printed on the packaging. Further timelines are set for cigars and other tobacco products.

Plain packaging around the world

These requirements follow the lead of countries such as Australia and the United Kingdom, which have their own packaging rules and were at the forefront of tobacco packaging change. There has been resistance to plain packaging from tobacco companies, who suggest that plain packaging doesn’t work and that it may boost the illicit sale of tobacco products. At least 16 other countries have adopted similar measures and Canada will have one of the best tobacco plain packaging regulations in the world, setting multiple world precedents.

There are 29 countries and territories moving forward with plain packaging, with 16 having adopted or working on the measure.

For more information on plain packaging

Visit Health Canada: Plain and Standardized Appearance for Tobacco Packaging and Products.

Interested in quitting?

There are many reasons why one should quit smoking. It is always a good time to quit. Quitting smoking can be difficult. Replacing cigarettes with other tobacco products can still negatively affect your health. If you or someone you know is interested in quitting or decreasing their tobacco use, encourage them to talk to their primary care provider (such as a doctor or nurse practitioner).

The following tobacco cessation resources are also available:

  • QuitNow offers free information, support, and counseling by trained professionals by phone, text, or email.
  • BC Smoking Cessation Program: Everyone in BC can access 12 weeks of free nicotine replacement therapy (gum, patch, inhaler and lozenges) per calendar year through their local pharmacy. Women who are pregnant or lactating are advised to consult with their doctor or pharmacist.
  • First Nations Health Authority benefits program offers supplementary coverage for nicotine replacement therapy.

Note: In this post, as in most public health messages, “tobacco use” refers to the use of commercial tobacco products like cigarettes and chewing tobacco as opposed to traditional uses of tobacco.

Lindsay Willoner

About Lindsay Willoner

Originally from Ontario, Lindsay started her nursing career with Northern Health in 2006 as a public health nurse. Since then, Lindsay has branched out in a variety of leadership roles both within and outside NH, including as a public health resource nurse, working with Options for Sexual Health, community influenza contracts, BCNU stewardship, and working at the local long-term care facility. Lindsay currently works as Regional Nursing Lead for Tobacco Reduction based out of the Terrace Health Unit.


World No Tobacco Day 2016

Once again, it’s that time of year. The warm days of spring, which signal the start of soccer, baseball, and yard work have arrived. Now before you get lost in thoughts of hammocks and hamburgers, I would like to remind you of an important date:

Tuesday, May 31 is World No Tobacco Day

It’s no secret that tobacco use is dangerous to your health. In fact, tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death and illness in Canada. For World No Tobacco Day 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) is focusing on plain packaging for tobacco products.

Plain packaging works for many reasons. According to the WHO, plain packaging reduces the appeal of tobacco products. In addition, it takes away potential marketing space for tobacco producers. It also limits misleading labelling and makes health warnings more effective.

If you think about it, it makes sense. We’re constantly being bombarded by advertising and at one time it was the same with tobacco products. Bans on advertising tobacco products on television and in print have helped lower the rates of tobacco use. Now there’s evidence that plain packaging can be effective as well.

A study in Europe found that the use of plain packaging combined with health warnings increased awareness about the health risks of tobacco use. In particular, using large “picture” type warnings coupled with plain packaging was very effective. The study also found that people were encouraged to quit using tobacco when this combination was used.

So, what’s Canada doing about plain packaging?

The government of Canada has confirmed its dedication to introducing plain packaging requirements for tobacco products. This could include bans on brand colors, logos and graphics as part of these requirements. To start the process, the Public Health Agency of Canada is looking into a cost-benefit analysis for plain packaging of tobacco products.

Interest in plain packaging is also increasing all around the world:

  • Australia was the first country to implement plain packaging in December 2012.
  • Ireland, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and France all passed plain packaging laws. These laws will take effect this month.
  • A number of other countries are considering the adoption of plain packaging laws.

The WHO’s goal for World No Tobacco Day is to highlight the role of plain packaging as part of a comprehensive approach to tobacco control and support countries as they require plain packaging for tobacco products.

As a Tobacco Reduction Coordinator and father of a teenager, I think that anything that makes tobacco less attractive is worth pursuing. Perhaps we should take a page out of the tobacco control book from Australia.

Plain packaging poster

Plain packaging of tobacco products features standard sizes, neutral fonts, and dull colors for all brands to make tobacco products less visually appealing.

Reg Wulff

About Reg Wulff

Reg is a licensing officer with Northern Health and has his BA in Health Science. Previously, he worked as a Recreation Therapist with Mental Health and Addictions Services in Terrace as well as a Regional Tobacco Reduction Coordinator. Originally from Revelstoke, Reg enjoys the outdoor activities that Terrace offers, like mountain biking and fishing. Reg also likes playing hockey, working out, and creative writing. He is married and has two sons and believes strongly in a work/life balance as family time is important to him.