A smoker holds their pack of cigarettes following an announcement by Minister of Health Leona Aglukkaq on tobacco labelling in Ottawa, June 19, 2012. (Chris Roussakis/QMI Agency)
OTTAWA - Warning labels covering 75% of cigarette packs in Canada are now the fourth largest in the world, according to an international report released Wednesday by the Canadian Cancer Society.
The report, which ranked 198 countries and jurisdictions on the size of cigarette warning labels, was unveiled at a Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in Seoul, South Korea.
"Increasing the size increases the effectiveness of the warning. That's been demonstrated by countless research studies," said policy analyst Rob Cunningham.
Canada was the first country to require picture warnings on 50% cigarette packages in 2001. But in 2010, the Canadian Cancer Society ranked Canada fifteenth for its warning labels prior to new rules unveiled by the government in 2011.
Australia now has the largest warnings in the world, which cover 75% of the front and 90% of the back. Australia has also ushered in "plain packaging" to bar tobacco company colours, logos and design elements on the brand part of the package.
Cunningham says Canada should take a tip from Australia.
In 2011, Health Canada said there would be "two phases" to revamp health warning labels on all tobacco products.
The first phase applied to beefing up labels on cigarettes and little cigars, and the government said it intends to address other tobacco products, such as roll-your-own tobacco, smokeless tobacco, little cigars weighing more than 1.4 grams, pipe tobacco and waterpipe tobacco.
"With these other products, the warnings have not changed in 11 years," said Cunningham. "The government said in February 2011 they would be moving to have phase two for other products and they haven't yet. That is something we are urging they do as soon as possible."
The Canadian Cancer Society say 37,000 Canadians die due to tobacco related illnesses annually.
The national smoking rate is lower than it has ever been at 17%, according to Statistics Canada figures released in September 2011.