Government imposes tough new warning labels on tobacco industry products
Beginning next year, cigarette packs will be a lot more jarring as they’ll feature graphic photos and stern messages about the dangers of tobacco use.
For example, one label includes a photograph of anti-smoking crusader Barbra Tarbox on her deathbed.
Health Canada is once again focusing on ways to increase awareness of the health hazards associated with the use of tobacco products by imposing a new Tobacco Act.
The first attempt by the government to bring public awareness to the risks and health issues associated with tobacco use was enforced in 2000. Warning labels then featured illustrations and text highlighting the most common illnesses and effects of smoking.
This year, the Harper government pushed forward the Tobacco Products Labeling Regulations Act. Canadian Cancer Society spokeswoman Angeline Webb says that this time around the images on cigarette products will depict “the truth of tobacco use.”
And the truth is that “tobacco use is the leading cause of cancer death.”
Although warning labels are already found on cigarette packages, the tobacco industry is still a multi-million dollar a year industry — or as Webb calls it, “a recession-proof industry.”
There are currently 565,250 smokers in Alberta alone and about 3,000 Albertans die every year from tobacco use.
“People are very good at tuning out and denying if they don’t want to know.” – psychologist Rosalyn Golfman
The biggest change imposed by the Act requires that 75 per cent of the cigarettes and little cigar packages feature 16 new graphic images.
Webb regularly deals with tobacco-related issues and believes that this type of health information is an important and effective approach to the prevention and reduction of tobacco use.
“These types of pictures are an accurate health outcome of tobacco use. No matter how horrific the images may appear to some people, it’s the truth,” Webb says.
Naomi Grant, a professor of psychology at Mount Royal University who holds a PhD in social psychology, says that images can be more effective than text in grabbing people’s attention.
“The purpose of the visual images is to create fear. And then hopefully that fear will change their attitudes and then in turn their behaviour.”
Psychology of visual images
These pictures will no longer merely be illustrations that list the health risks of smoking in words, but rather, what Health Canada spokesperson Jacinthe David calls testimonials — actual pictures of people suffering from smoking-related illnesses.
David, who is a manager in the Controlled Substances and Tobacco Directorate, says that these labels are a way for the government to communicate the health effects of tobacco use.
“The older warnings were still working but weren’t as effective anymore. We had done some research and it showed that people were getting immune to them.”
The research done by Health Canada that David is referring to is a study that was done in 2007.
“The research showed that 52 per cent of adult smokers reported that the warning labels had been effective in increasing their desire to quit, or getting them to attempt to quit, or smoke less,” David says.
While this suggests that warning labels can be an effective preventative tool, Canadian psychologist Rosalyn Golfman warns that people can turn a blind eye when it interferes with their desires.
“If people want to do something, they’ve got ways of compartmentalizing it and not necessarily paying attention to it, she says. “With addictions, people will find a way around it.”
“I would probably think that the written text has been somewhat helpful, so the visual should help too. But again, from a psychological point of view, if people want to do it, they are just going to ignore it.
“People are very good at tuning out and denying if they don’t want to know.”
Labels marketing tool for governement
While many people remain skeptical on the outcome of these new warnings, Webb says she believes that consumers have a right to know and be informed of what they are getting themselves into when they take up an addictive habit such as smoking.
She also says she believes that the warning labels will prevent young people from being fooled into taking up smoking by tobacco industry campaigns — marketing tools are designed to misinform and entice the youth of today.
“These warnings help illustrate the end result. And what better way to do that than to put it on the products themselves?” she says. They “increase knowledge, help de-normalize tobacco use and they can prevent youth uptake of tobacco,” Webb adds.
Tobacco manufacturers and importers have until March 2012 to comply with the new labeling criteria, while retailers have until June 2012 to ensure all packages on their shelves meet the new Tobacco Act regulations.
The Calgary Journal asked young Calgarians what they thought of Health Canada’s new graphic labeling of tobacco products.
Here’s what they said: