Cigarette packs show ugly message

When it comes to warning people about the dangers of cigarettes, Canada's leading cancer researcher says we're not just blowing smoke.

The Canadian Cancer Society says Canada's cigarette packaging bears some of the most prominent health messages in the world.

The society says three-quarters of the space on Canadian packaging is now devoted to pictures and text discouraging smokers from lighting up.

That places Canada fourth in a ranking of 198 countries, up sharply from a 15th-place finish two years ago.

Australia took top spot by covering 82.5 per cent of its packages with health warnings, followed by Uruguay and Sri Lanka.

The society says Canada has regained much of the ground it lost in recent years, but says the country's health policy makers still have some lessons to learn from the global leaders.

Senior policy analyst Rob Cunningham said much of Canada's progress comes as a result of federal regulations that went into effect on June 19.

The new rules require tobacco companies to cover 75 per cent of cigarette packages with pictures depicting the effects of lung cancer and text enumerating the health risks associated with smoking.

"The best way to communicate with smokers about the health risks is to see the package," Cunningham said in a telephone interview from Seoul, South Korea.

"They have it in their hand every day. A picture says a thousand words and ... conveys a message that is very memorable and has a lot of impact."

Some 2011 data from the society suggests that Canadians are heeding warnings to butt out. A survey found that 17 per cent of Canadians identified themselves as smokers, down from 24 per cent a decade earlier.

While higher tax rates and more widespread restrictions on public smokers played a role in the decline, Cunningham credits photographic health warnings for accelerating its pace.

At the time those warnings were introduced in 2001, Canadian policy makers were seen as trailblazers in the anti-smoking campaign.

Canada was the first of the countries surveyed to compel manufacturers to display the graphic images, kicking off a trend that 62 other countries have since followed.

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