Article by Marie-Danielle Smith, National Post
The box is a little too large to fit comfortably in your pocket. It is a drab brown colour, with a large, graphic health warning and space for a brand name in simple font. It’s boring and “plain,” and Health Canada wants it to become the only legal way to package cigarettes.
This week the Senate begins its study of new plain-packaging legislation, which proposes to standardize the packaging and the appearance of the cigarettes themselves, as well as regulate vaping. Unsurprisingly, the legislation is the subject of a fight between tobacco companies and health advocates. The industry says the Liberals’ Bill S-5 is a gift to organized crime; anti-smoking groups say concerns over the legislation are being overstated, and that plain packaging will make cigarettes less attractive to kids.
Representatives of Imperial Tobacco want the bill amended to allow some branding on packaging. The proposed law, they say, would mean consumers — and possibly law enforcement — would no longer be able to tell the difference between legal and illegal tobacco products.
“We don’t believe that by introducing plain packaging that the government is going to reach its stated health objective,” said Eric Gagnon, head of external relations for the tobacco giant. “There are some real concerns that by introducing plain packaging that contraband tobacco in Canada will explode, and that we might be stuck with a counterfeit issue.”
Gagnon said the packaging being recommended by Health Canada — as well as the standard size, shape and appearance it proposes for all cigarettes — is a format already being used by illegal traffickers, which ultimately benefits them. He blamed a small, “very vocal” group of anti-tobacco lobbyists for influencing the legislation, which he called “feel-good” but ineffective.
Whatever happens with the plain-packaging debate is sure to affect how marijuana is packaged and marketed if the government proceeds with legalization. A task force that provided recommendations to the government suggested plain packaging should be built into initial legislation. A bill on marijuana legalization is expected to be tabled later this month.