Anti-smoking measures not enough, study says

A new report from the University of Waterloo suggests Canada is at risk of losing ground in its efforts to reduce tobacco use. The study finds that cigarettes became more affordable in Canada between 2002 and 2010 and graphic health warning labels are noticed less by smokers. (CBC)

Canada is at risk of losing ground in its efforts to reduce tobacco use says a University of Waterloo professor, due in part to concerns that cigarettes have become more affordable in Canada. 

"Recently there hasn't been much effort, especially on the part of the federal government in providing resources to encourage people to quit smoking," Geoffrey Fong, the study's author,  told Craig Norris on The Morning Edition Thursday.

"As a result you see a sense from a public as well that since smoking rates have come done so far that smoking is done and its time to move on to other things."

Fong is a psychology professor and the chief investigator of the International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Project. 

"We know from our research and those of others that unless the government strengthens its efforts, we're going to see a potential increase in smoking rates," he said. 

The study says early in the last decade, Canada's policies were working very well, but new areas of concern have emerged in recent years.

Fong says that's partly explained by illicit tobacco sales on First Nations reserves,  but it's also because tax increases on cigarettes have levelled off.

"There were a number of strong tobacco control measures and policies implemented by the government about a decade ago, but in the past few years there's been a slowing of that. There haven't been strong tax increases to increase price. We know that price is the most effective way to reduce smoking rates," he said.

Fong says the real price of cigarettes has actually declined over the last decade, and recommends that the federal and provincial governments take strong steps to raise taxes and cigarette prices.

The study also raises concern about the impact of those graphic warning labels on cigarette packages. Fong says the disturbing pictures haven't changed often enough over the years, and that's muted the message.

On top of that, the study also recommends the introduction of plain packaging for cigarettes to make them less visually appealing. 

"It's really the last important venue for advertising in Canada, right on the pack itself and that's why plain standardized packaging would be the right one to pursue," he said.  Fong notes that Australia has already moved to plain cigarette packaging and that the tobacco industry is fighting the government there in court. 

Fong put the impact in perspective. 

"Close to one half of all smokers will die from some kind of smoking-related illness and it will be the loss of life of about a decade for those who do."