Cigarette packs used as ‘mini billboards,’ says BC researcher, on international ‘No Tobacco Day’

Federal government announces move to standardize tobacco packaging
WATCH: Melodie Tilson, of the Non-Smokers Rights Association, takes a look at the federal government's proposal requiring tobacco products to be sold in plain packaging.

May 31 marks the World Health Organization’s ‘No Tobacco Day’ and this year, the focus is on the international effort to introduce plain, standardized packaging for tobacco products.

Smokers are used to flashy packaging with lots of advertising on cigarette packs, but standardized packaging requirements only allow the brand name to be included in a pre-set size and font on the front of the box, and every pack must be the same colour. Existing health warnings and other legally mandated markers on the packs would remain in place.

READ MORE: Plain tobacco packaging one step closer to reality in Canada

The World Health Organization says plain packaging reduces attractiveness of tobacco products, restricts the use of tobacco packaging as a form of advertising and limits misleading packing and labelling. The WHO also claims plain packaging increases the effectiveness of health warnings that are usually quite prominent on cigarette packs.

Canada’s cigarette packaging already bears some of the most prominent health messages in the world, with three-quarters of the space on Canadian packaging devoted to pictures and text discouraging smokers from lighting up. Cigarettes must also be kept out of sight on shelves.

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The Canadian government announced its plans to adopt plain packaging on cigarettes packs earlier this year. Health Minister Jane Philpott is expected to follow up on that announcement in a press conference this afternoon.

Plain packaging requirements are already in place in Australia and will soon be implemented in the United Kingdom, Ireland and France.

Simon Fraser University health sciences professor Kelley Lee says tobacco companies use cigarette packs as ‘mini billboards’ to effectively market a product that kills six million people each year, using colour, shape, size and imagery.

“Packaging is seen by the industry as the last bastion of tobacco marketing,” says Lee. “This is why they have fought tooth and nail against plain packaging.”

Lee and her research team have set up an informative display at SFU showcasing how cigarette packaging plays a key role in the marketing of tobacco products.


The display includes more than 40 different cigarette packs from across the world, including highly stylized examples to target children and women.

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Courtesy: Kelley Lee, SFU
Courtesy: Kelley Lee, SFU

Lee says the adoption of plain packaging would not allow tobacco companies to continue this practice.

Lee’s research focuses on global tobacco control and, in particular, the role of the tobacco industry worldwide.

Her team is studying the globalization of the tobacco industry and how it has been achieved. This has included undermining the adoption of effective tobacco control policies, such as plain packaging, through a variety of tactics.

~With files from