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'Cigarettes cause cancer'

Not too long ago, Canadians could smoke virtually anywhere they pleased: at work, in theatres, restaurants and even hospitals. Smoking rates peaked in the early 1960s, when nearly half of all adults puffed away. But as evidence of the health hazards of cigarettes piled up, high taxes, graphic warnings and restrictions on smoking have helped make smoking unacceptable. CBC Archives traces the decline of smoking in Canada.

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The health risks of smoking are about to be spelled out in stark black and white: "Cigarettes are addictive." "Cigarettes cause cancer." "Smoking can kill you." For almost three years the government has been pushing for larger, more graphic warnings on every package of cigarettes. Court challenges and industry foot-dragging delayed their implementation, but now the way is clear. But as this CBC News report finds, some kids say it still won't make them quit. 
• Health warnings used be printed along the sides of the cigarette package, where they were easily ignored. With new packaging proposed in January 1990, warnings would have to cover 25 per cent of the package's front and back and 25 per cent of all six sides of a carton.
• The warnings would appear in both official languages and alternate between black text on a white background or white text on a black background.

• The tobacco industry pulled out every possible argument against new warning labels. They claimed it was offensive to brand smokers as addicts, that the warnings infringed on their trademarks, and that smokers already knew about the health risks of smoking.
• Due to these delays, and the fact that there was still a lawsuit by the tobacco companies against the Tobacco Products Control Act, it wasn't until September 1994 that the new warnings actually appeared.

• Some smokers protested the presence of the warnings on their cigarettes. Enterprising marketers created stickers with alternate, often funny messages to be placed over the warning. One such label read "Smoke 'em if you got 'em."
• Other companies made cardboard sleeves to cover the entire pack. Smokers also embraced old-fashioned cigarette cases to carry around their smokes.

• Health Canada has examined plain packaging – cigarette packs bearing no brand logos or colours, only plainly-lettered brand names – as a way to further decrease the allure of cigarettes.
• In March 1995, after almost a year of study, the department concluded that plain packaging would likely dissuade more young people from starting smoking. But it took no further action.

• Warning messages on cigarettes became even more graphic at the start of 2001. New warnings ("Tobacco use can make you impotent", "Cigarettes hurt babies") were added to the mix, as were vivid colour photographs. Many of them showed the effects smoking has on the lungs, teeth and mouth.
• "Revolting," said a smoker, interviewed in the Globe and Mail about the graphic photos. "But it will have no influence on me."

• In 1994 the CBC's own Rex Murphy opined that the anti-smoking campaign had nothing to do with health. See Murphy's point of view that warnings and bylaws were a smokescreen for "preachy zealots."
Medium: Television
Program: Prime Time News
Broadcast Date: March 19, 1993
Guest(s): BenoƮt Bouchard, Ken Kyle, Gar Mahood, Rob Parker
Host: Susan Harada, Peter Mansbridge
Reporter: Denise Harrington
Duration: 2:17

Last updated: April 12, 2012

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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