OTTAWA - The feds will be releasing new warning labels for cigarette packs by mid-January, after critics alleged the Tories caved to Big Tobacco.
Conservative MPs at Tuesday's health committee voted to have Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq introduce new labels, including graphic photos, by Jan. 17, despite her previous refusal to commit to a deadline.
The government MPs voted against a separate opposition motion that laid out specifics that would have pushed labels covering 75% of the package and on the two biggest sides, inserts inside and a national toll-free quit line.
It's a signal the government is ready to move ahead with the new warnings.
Last week, Aglukkaq said she was close to making a decision on a new anti-smoking strategy, but didn't commit to updating the cigarette warning labels.
And she denied shelving the plan to use more graphic photos and make the labels bigger.
Health organizations, provincial health ministers and opposition MPs accused her of caving to Big Tobacco lobbying after she said she was worried about contraband.
A spokeswoman for Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada says the committee vote is a good step forward because the Tories have signalled the government will be announcing picture-based health warnings.
“We left the room feeling very happy that progress had been made,” said Cynthia Callard.
But with the government MPs refusing to vote for both motions, “it also made us a little worried that what had been talked about last year was going to be watered down," she said.
Callard says the government was under pressure to implement the changes.
“The department, we know, was working on this for seven years. They certainly had something ready to go. The question was whether it was approved.”
Health Canada spent more than $3.6 million between 2004 and 2010 developing the labels and testing their effectiveness in focus groups.
Aglukkaq said last week she agrees bigger labels with more graphic pictures will be more effective.
“We're not in bed with Big Tobacco,” she said.
“I have been examining the labelling ... and I have not shelved that project.”