As of yesterday, newly sized and more emotionally aggressive warning labels began appearing on cigarette and cigarillo boxes. The reasoning behind it all? To make people more aware of the dangers of smoking and to “encourage smokers to give up their habit”. The hope is, that if warning labels increase in size, from 50% to 75% of the overall carton, then, suddenly, non-smokers will see the inherent dangers of the habit and current smokers will finally see the light and drop the addiction.
I feel that Canada has a guilty conscious when it comes to the selling of tobacco products and is overcompensating in a couple of regards. In the last few decades, cigarettes were banned from restaurants, then patios, then all non-designated public spaces. In 1988, packages began running single line warnings which gave way to half page warnings in 2000 which in turn have now been replaced, in 2012, by a harrowing warning that occupies three quarters of the overall packaging. In 2005, Canada’s provinces were given the green light to force store owners to conceal cigarettes in stock behind a curtain of sorts, effectively making the cigarettes invisible to the casual shopper. On top of that, several lawsuits have been launched at tobacco companies by government offices to show that Canada expects these companies to help contribute to the recovery costs of the industry’s victims.
To me, it seems that the Government of Canada has done everything in its power to stem the flow of cigarette consumption in this country. That is, it has done everything it can short of not selling cigarettes.
Finding actual figures as to how much the government pulls in from cigarettes proved difficult but we can be certain that a fair sum is brought in every year from Canada’s Tobacco Tax alone.
This is why I find this to all be sort of two-faced. On one hand, Canada sells tobacco products to those who wish to buy them, attaching hefty taxes to the products that insure the smoker is putting back into society. On the other hand, the government is making efforts to diminish the rights of smokers by dictating where and when they can exercise their government-sponsored addiction.
As a non-smoker, I am all for banning smoking within indoor public places like restaurants in the same way that I think someone should not be allowed to idle a car in a store. But making it more and more difficult for one to smoke outside to me seems to be a cruel trick being played by those that sell the cigarettes in the first place, especially in a country that poo-pooed the Carbon Tax (with the exception of Quebec).
Bigger, uglier warnings are not the answer. People, we can assume, know now what the risks of smoking are. This information is everywhere. This information is probably more readily available than cigarettes themselves. Perhaps this kind of campaign would have been useful back when cigarettes hit the market and advertisers claimed that their brand was doctor sponsored.
By making the warnings bigger, we are failing to deal with the real issue.
I think Canada really ought to put its foot down somewhere. Either sell cigarettes to smokers who we can assume know the health risks and tax the hell out of them and leave it at that, or begin to make real measures to wane smokers off the product, measures that involve assessing the cultural weight of smoking and why people choose to smoke in the first place despite the health risks.
But by attacking this problem effectively, Canada might be losing out on one of it’s big money-makers and, I think, that’s the problem. We won’t see any real results while Canadian smokers continue to pour so much of their hard earned dollars into the tax system. Instead, we throw a big scary ad on a carton reiterating what we’ve already heard a hundred times, as if to say, “See! We tried!”