Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia's top doctor wants cigarette advertising on packs dropped

One of the last places where you can still find cigarette advertising is on packages. But that could change if Canada joins a wave of countries forcing the tobacco industry to drop its logo and bold colour from packages, which are already restricted to the bottom quarter of the pack.

Dr. Robert Strang says Canada should adopt plain packaging

One of the last places where you can still find cigarette advertising is on the packages.

But that could change if Canada joins a wave of countries forcing tobacco companies to drop logos and bold colours from packages, which are already restricted to the bottom quarter of the pack.

Dr. Robert Strang, the chief public health officer in Nova Scotia, is championing the cause.  Nova Scotia was the first jurisdiction in the world to ban menthol cigarettes.
This image provided by the Australian government shows a mock-up of a cigarette package with the branding removed and graphic health warnings displayed. (Australia government/Associated Press)

"The next biggest thing, I would say, on the horizon that we need to start looking at is plain packaging and the momentum that's gathering on that issue globally," said Strang.

Australia was the first to go with plain packaging in 2012, with the U.K. and Ireland scheduled to adopt the change next May. Other countries are eyeing the move.

Plain lettering and scary picture

Stripped are the brand's distinctive and colourful logo. Instead the name of the cigarette appears in plain lettering on a boring, brown background. Most of the package is covered by a large warning and a scary picture of a dying patient or diseased organ. The idea: make smokes less appealing.

"The sexy look. For women, [it's] slim packaging, all sorts of things," said Strang. "They market test this, they spend billions trying to figure out how to make their product attractive, so we want to take that away from them."

Australia's smoking rate dropped by 3.4 per cent in 2013, one year after introducing plain packs. Nova Scotia's smoking rates are stuck at about 18 to 19 per cent, and above the national average, according to Strang. He hopes following Australia's lead will help kick-start a decline.

But for smokers like Josie Stone, the mere suggestion has her fuming.
"I get so angry thinking the government has the right to choose what I smoke, how I smoke it, and what's on my packages," she said. "I like to blow smoke, it's a stress relief. I'm not going to stop smoking just because they changed the pack."

Australia facing lawsuit

Strang concedes generic packaging may have little impact on longtime smokers, but says the move would really be aimed at reaching youth before they pick up the habit. He says evidence shows they are swayed by marketing campaigns. If branding and marketing didn't work, Strang suggests Australia wouldn't be defending itself in a lawsuit filed by tobacco companies over plain packaging.

"If you're being sued, it actually means it's a good sign," Strang said. "It means you're doing the right thing because the tobacco industry is paying attention. They know it's going to impact the sale of their product, which impacts their bottom line. So, we can't let that deter us."

At Sievert's Tobacco, a historic shop in downtown Halifax, staff are still packing up boxes of menthol and other flavoured tobacco to ship back to the manufacturers. But for years, workers have been hiding cigarettes behind brown curtains so they're out of view by customers. 

Staff doubted another change would make a difference. 

"It's crazy, it's not going to matter. They're still going to get the cigarettes, they're still going to smoke," said Craig Sievert, the store's owner.

Strang says he plans to raise the issue with his provincial and federal counterparts. Imposing a change on the tobacco industry would be up to Ottawa.

Stone would prefer a different approach. She's been lighting up since she was 12. She says if the government was truly interested in curbing smoking rates, it would force tobacco companies to list the ingredients on cigarette packages.


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