Thank you, Madam Chair.
We appreciate the invitation to speak to the standing committee about Health Canada's tobacco labelling regulations.
Health Canada is committed to helping the five million Canadians who continue to smoke to kick the habit. We know that smoking is responsible for the premature death of 37,000 Canadians a year and causes chronic diseases like lung cancer and cardiovascular disease. We also know that health warning labels on tobacco packaging are one of the most effective ways to warn smokers of the health hazards of smoking. Research has shown, however, that the current messages in place since 2000 have reached their maximum effectiveness.
Last December the Minister of Health announced regulatory changes to introduce new and larger health warning messages that include a toll-free quit line number for all cigarette and little cigar packages. In February of this year the department published the proposed regulations in Canada Gazette part 1, and the minister laid the regulations before the House of Commons on June 9. These regulations are entitled, first, Tobacco Products Labelling Regulations (Cigarettes and Little Cigars); second, Regulations Amending the Tobacco Products Information Regulations; and third, Promotion of Tobacco Products and Accessories Regulations (Prohibited Terms).
I am pleased to provide you with a brief overview of the proposed regulations.
Canada was the first country to require pictorial health warnings on tobacco packaging when it adopted the Tobacco Products Information Regulations in 2000. Since then, research has shown that larger warnings with pictures are more likely to be noticed, better communicate health risks, provoke greater emotional response, and further motivate tobacco users to quit.
I will first mention the proposed tobacco products labelling regulations for cigarettes and little cigars. These regulations will increase the size of the health warnings from 50% to 75% of the front and the back of the package. These regulations include 16 new high-impact health warnings that cover a wide variety of messages. For example, there will be warnings about tobacco-related diseases that have not been featured in the past, such as bladder cancer and age-related macular degeneration, and for the first time Canadian health warnings will feature testimonials from individuals affected by tobacco use, such as the late Barb Tarbox.
Also included are eight new pictorial health information messages placed in the interior of the pack, and four easier to understand toxic emission statements.
Changes to the design of the health information messages make them more engaging, and they encourage users to read the information. The four text-based toxic emission statements provide clear, concise, and easy-to-understand information about the toxic substances found in tobacco smoke. They will be found on the side of cigarette and little cigar packages. Research indicates that having both positive and negative messages is important in motivating behavioural change. This balanced approach will provide Canadians with information on both the health risks of smoking and the health benefits of quitting.
The proposed new labels also feature a pan-Canadian toll-free quit line number and Web portal to inform tobacco users about the availability of smoking cessation services.
Health Canada is working with its provincial and territorial counterparts to establish the quit line and web portal that will seamlessly connect smokers to their local cessation services.
I will just say a word on the issue raised by Mr. Clayton. The inclusion of the words “at least 75%” makes the proposed regulations consistent with the current regulations, which say “at least 50%”. I'd like to assure the committee that this does not alter the requirements set out in the Tobacco Act for all regulations to be laid in front of the House.
Second, Health Canada is also proposing regulations amending the Tobacco Products Information Regulations. These regulations currently establish the requirements for information that must be displayed on tobacco product packaging for retail sale in Canada. The proposed changes will remove their application to cigarettes and little cigars, which will be regulated by the new tobacco products labelling regulations. The amendments will also remove the obligation to list numerical values for toxic emissions, which many smokers found confusing. Other modifications address housekeeping changes in response to issues identified by Parliament's Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations.
The third set of proposed regulations deals with prohibited terms in the promotion of tobacco products and accessories. These regulations would prohibit the use of the “light” and “mild” descriptors and related terms on various tobacco products; on their packaging, promotions, and retail displays; and on tobacco accessories.
This last set of regulations would reinforce the Competition Bureau's previous agreement made in 2006 and 2007 with nine tobacco companies, representing approximately 98% of the Canadian cigarette market, to voluntarily remove the misleading terms from their products and packaging. These regulatory changes would prohibit these terms from all relevant products.
As part of the regulatory process, Health Canada consulted Canadians on these three regulatory packages.
Following a 75-day comment period, we received 54 submissions from the tobacco industry, from retailers, from non-governmental health organizations, and from individual Canadians. Health Canada has considered these comments and integrated them, where appropriate, to improve the effectiveness of health messages and to facilitate their implementation. For instance, Health Canada changed some font colours and the layout of the quit line number to improve readability. You'll notice that it's now a yellow font over a black background. Some images were also changed to ensure that health messages were more representative of the diversity in Canadian society. Technical changes, such as the colour processing, were made to facilitate implementation and printing of packages by manufacturers.
Building on the success of the Cracking Down on Tobacco Marketing Aimed at Youth Act, the regulations laid out and referred to you propose changes to tobacco packaging that complement new and existing cessation and prevention initiatives, resulting in a comprehensive and integrated approach to tobacco control.
Thank you. My colleagues and I welcome your questions.