Plain Packaging For Cigarettes One Step Closer To Reality In Canada

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OTTAWA — The federal government plans to consult Canadians about how best to implement measures to curb smoking that include requiring plain packaging for tobacco products, Health Minister Jane Philpott said Tuesday.

The dialogue is one of the initial steps in the government's plan to mandate a standard package size for tobacco products and a total ban on the use of colours, logos and graphics on cigarette packs.

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A high school student looks at a mock up of plain cigarette packaging before the start of a news conference in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, May 31, 2016. (REUTERS/Chris Wattie)

The plan is strongly opposed by the industry and is likely to trigger another fierce legal battle between Ottawa and Big Tobacco.

Similar rules have been imposed in a number of other countries, including Australia, prompting a rash of unsuccessful court challenges by the tobacco industry.

The government is well aware industry players are against the measure, Philpott said, adding their response comes as "no surprise."

"Australia, some time ago, had a successful legal outcome and the U.K. very recently had a successful legal outcome," Philpott said.

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Health Minister Jane Philpott says the Liberal government will consult Canadians on implementing plain packaging for tobacco products. (Canadian Press photo)

"There's good evidence that gives us confidence, these are obviously in other legal systems but the evidence is out there that ... the need to protect public health trump the realities of the industry."

The industry is making their opinions "widely known" among MPs, Philpott added, but she stressed the government will not be changing its mind on its plan.

"There's no question about whether we are going to proceed with plain packaging regulations," Philpott said.

"We want to know how best to do it."

In addition to Australia, plain packaging has also been embraced in France, the United Kingdom and Ireland, while formal consideration is also underway in Norway, Hungary, Slovenia, Sweden, Finland, New Zealand, Singapore, Belgium and South Africa.

"The needs to protect public health trump the realities of the industry."— Health Minister Jane Philpott

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in Canada, including about 30 per cent of all cancer deaths, according to the Canadian Cancer Society.

It's a significant policy announcement on the tobacco file, said lawyer Rob Cunningham, a senior policy analyst at the society.

"Consultation is part of the regulatory process," Cunningham said in an interview. "It is moving things along. Other countries have had consultation processes as well."

What the Canadian government is contemplating goes beyond what Australia has done in some respects, such as a possible ban on "super-slim" cigarettes, he added.

"That would be something Australia hasn't done," Cunningham said, pointing out the product is often favoured among young women.

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