Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Health warnings to provoke “discomfort and disgust”

The Canadian government has postponed plans for graphic new warning labels on cigarette packs. And, that, of course, has got anti-smoker groups pissed off.

"I would have expected that large warnings would be announced by now . . . the government hasn't really given a clear reason why and I can't conceive of a good reason why," said Rob Cunningham of the Canadian Cancer Society.

Graphic warnings on cigarette packs have been required in Canada since 2001. Anti-smoker zealots claim the current labels are no longer effective and need to be made even more repulsive and pornographic if they are to be successful in coercing, er . . . encouraging, smokers to quit. And, of course, they have to be made much larger since smokers are apparently too blind to read the existing messages.

Currently, the labels cover half the surface of the pack, front and back, with messages reminding smokers of the health risks of smoking and urging them to quit. We must assume the graphic warnings are directed exclusively at smokers, since cigarette packs are hidden from view in retail outlets selling cigarettes and other tobacco products to adult consumers.

The federal government decision to shelve plans for larger, more graphic labels was announced in September.

"Health Canada continues to examine the renewal of health warning messages on tobacco packaging but is not ready to move forward at this time," a spokeswoman told Reuters in a September 29, 2010 article.

The government apparently wants to concentrate on the fight against contraband which is costing senior levels of government hundreds of millions in lost revenue from tobacco taxes annually.

Unfortunately for the government, the tobacco companies are also losing money due to ever-increasing sales of contraband.

Imperial Tobacco spokesman Eric Gagnon claims contraband tobacco costs the industry between $875 million and C$1 billion a year. "The biggest tobacco problem in Canada today is contraband. So increasing a health warning on a product that already has a 50 percent health warning -- and is also hidden from public view -- is not a public health initiative."

And, the tobacco company's support of Conservative government efforts to control contraband has allowed the loyal opposition to accuse the government of pandering to the tobacco industry and protecting industry profits. "This government is listening to the business lobby, the tobacco lobby," said Liberal MP, Ujjal Dosanjh, a former federal Minister of Health.

The government announcement prompted a nasty rebuke from anti-smoker zealots at Montreal's Concordia University. An article from the Concordian also questions the governments motives. “After millions of public dollars were spent on this campaign, how is it that the plan could simply be scrapped? And for what? To aid tobacco companies in the war against contraband cigarettes, which will essentially lead to putting more money in their pockets?”

The article by Lindsay Sykes asks: “Is it fear of the discomfort and disgust these images will invoke in people that has this plan being taken off the table for now? Isn't that the purpose of these images, after all; to be a preventative measure for future smokers and a motivation to quit for those who already smoke?”

Of course, larger, more disgusting images might also motivate more smokers to buy contraband. There are no warning labels on the clear plastic bags sold from the trunk of a car. And, they're a damn sight cheaper than the “legal” variety.

To end on a more humourous note, the federal Liberals recently launched a proposal to provide funding for Canadians providing essential home care to family members so they wouldn't have to quit their jobs.

The Liberals introduced their billion dollar home-care plan with a glossy brochure which featured a photo depicting two generations of a happy, smiling family. Unfortunately, one of the family members was enjoying a cigarette during the photo shoot.

Maybe the the photographer was a smoker who saw nothing abnormal about a guy having a quick puff while having his picture taken.

The faux pas, however, did not escape the attention of Prime Minister Stephen Harper . “I look at this brochure where on page six the Liberals talk about health care and on page four they promote somebody smoking,” he chided. Ouch.

No wonder the Liberals were so quick to take issue with the governments decision to delay those graphic warnings. They had to show they were just as tough on smokers as those other fellas.

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