Media Release

Tobacco plain packaging momentum continues worldwide with 38 countries and territories moving forward with regulations


An international report released today by the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) shows there is tremendous momentum worldwide for tobacco plain packaging. There are now 38 countries and territories moving forward with plain packaging, with 21 having adopted the measure, 3 having it in practice, and 14 working on it. Canada implemented plain packaging in 2019 and was among the first 10 countries to do so, and is tied for 19th in the world in terms of package warning size. The CCS report, Cigarette Package Health Warnings: International Status Report, documents global progress on plain packaging, ranks 206 countries and territories on the size of their health warnings on cigarette packages, and lists the 134 countries and territories that now require graphic picture warnings.

The CCS report is being released on the second anniversary of the implementation of plain packaging in Canada at the manufacturer level, on November 9, 2019.

Plain packaging accelerating globally
“There is a strong, unstoppable global trend for countries to implement plain packaging, reinforcing Canada’s implementation of this critically important measure,” says Rob Cunningham, Senior Policy Analyst, CCS. "Plain packaging is essential to protect kids, reduce tobacco use and save lives. "

While there are now 21 countries and territories that have adopted plain packaging, in 2018 only 9 countries had done so.

Plain packaging includes health warnings on packages and prohibits tobacco company branding such as colours, logos and design elements. It also requires the brand name to be a standard font size, style and location on the package and the brand portion of each package to be the same colour such as an unattractive brown. Finally, the package format is standardized. Plain packaging regulations put an end to packaging being used for product promotion, increase the effectiveness of package warnings, curb package deception and decrease tobacco use. Guidelines under the international tobacco treaty, the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), recommend that countries consider implementing plain packaging.

Plain packaging has been implemented in Australia (2012), France (2016), United Kingdom (2016), Norway (2017), Ireland (2017), New Zealand (2018), Saudi Arabia (2019), Turkey (2019), Thailand (2019), Canada (2019), Uruguay (2019), Slovenia (2020), Belgium (2020), Israel (2020), Singapore (2020), Netherlands (2020), Denmark (2021), and Guernsey (2021), and will be implemented in Hungary (2022), Jersey (2022) and Myanmar (2022). Plain packaging has been implemented in practice in 3 countries where packages are imported from a country with plain packaging: Monaco (from France), Cook Islands (from New Zealand), and Niue (from Australia). Plain packaging is under formal consideration in at least 14 countries: Armenia, Chile, Costa Rica, Finland, Georgia, Iran, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mexico, Nepal, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, and Sri Lanka.

Canada’s plain packaging regulations, in effect since November 9, 2019 at the manufacturer level and February 7, 2020, at the retail level, are the best and most comprehensive in the world.  They provide a basis for even further government action to reduce tobacco use in Canada and to advance the objective of achieving under 5% tobacco use by 2035.

The number of countries requiring plain packaging is expected to increase even further because of the World Trade Organization (WTO) appeal decision on June 9, 2020, that Australia's plain packaging requirements are consistent with WTO's international trade agreements. The tobacco industry had been opposing plain packaging arguing the measure infringed WTO trade agreements, but that argument can no longer have any credibility.

Graphic picture warnings continue to increase
The report found that 134 countries and territories now require picture health warnings on cigarette packages, an increase from 117 in 2018. This represents 70% of the world's population. Canada was the first country to require picture health warnings in 2001.

"There is unrelenting international momentum for countries to use graphic pictures on cigarette packages to show the lethal health effects of smoking," says Cunningham. "For decades, the tobacco industry has hidden the harms of smoking behind deceptive marketing and attractive packaging. Picture health warnings and increased warning sizes will help reduce global tobacco industry sales and will save lives lost to cancer and other tobacco-related diseases."

Currently in Canada, settlement negotiations are under way between provinces and tobacco companies regarding provincial medicare cost recovery lawsuits collectively seeking more than $500 billion in damages. CCS is advocating that public health measures to reduce tobacco use and reform industry behaviour be the priority in any settlement.

Canada ties for 19th in the world in terms of package warning size, with messaging that covers 75% of the package’s front and back. In total 122 countries and territories have required warnings to cover at least 50% of the package front and back (on average), up from 107 in 2018 and 24 in 2008. There are now 70 countries and territories with a size of at least 65% (on average) of the package front and back, and 10 with at least 85%.

Cigarette package warnings are a highly cost-effective way to increase awareness of the negative health effects of smoking and to reduce tobacco use. Picture-based warnings convey a more powerful message than a text-only warning and the effectiveness of warnings is known to increase with size.

Health Canada is working on a new round of health warnings, and has already consulted on placing a health warning directly on the cigarette itself as part of new requirements. Such a measure would be a world first, and is supported by extensive research evidence in Canada and internationally.

The report was released today in conjunction with the 9th session of the Conference of the Parties to the WHO FCTC being held virtually November 8-13, and hosted in Geneva, Switzerland. The report supports the implementation of the FCTC. The FCTC has an obligation for parties to require health warnings that "should be 50% or more of the principal display areas but shall be no less than 30% of the display areas" and may be in the form of, or include, picture warnings. There are now 182 parties to the FCTC.

This is the 7th Canadian Cancer Society international report on cigarette package health warnings. Previous reports were published in 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016, and 2018.

Cigarette Package Health Warnings report in English
Cigarette Package Health Warnings report in French

Tobacco use kills almost 48,000 Canadians annually. Canada-wide, smokers can call the number on cigarette packages 1-866-366-3667 to receive proven and personalized support to quit smoking. The Canadian Cancer Society operates Smokers’ Helpline digital services (website and live chat) in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, PEI, and the Yukon.

About the Canadian Cancer Society
The Canadian Cancer Society works tirelessly to save and improve lives. We fund the brightest minds in cancer research. We provide a compassionate support system for all those affected by cancer, from coast to coast and for all types of cancer. As the voice for Canadians who care about cancer, we work with governments to establish health policies to prevent cancer and better support those living with the disease. No other organization does all that we do to improve lives today and to change the future of cancer forever.

Help us make a difference. Call 1-888-939-3333 or visit today. 

For more information, please contact: 

Rob Cunningham, Senior Policy Analyst, Canadian Cancer Society

Phone: +1-613-762-4624