Person / Place / Thing
Check the label
Geoffrey Fong is a world expert on cigarette
PHO TO: DANIEL EHREN WORTH
they’re graphic and often gruesome, but
tobacco warning labels are also effective, says
The ITC project began its first, pioneering longitudinal survey in Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and Australia
in 2002. The project now counts 70 researchers conducting surveys in 20 countries and just recently
received renewed operating support of $7.2 million
from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
The ITC project aims to survey individuals before
major tobacco control policies are implemented (
including the adoption of warning labels, but also such
things as smoke-free laws and tax increases on tobacco
products) and then follows those same individuals
over time. “We can show you across many countries
that in every case graphic warning labels significantly
enhance the noticeability of warnings, encourage people to think about the health risks of smoking and
increase the likelihood that they will forgo a cigarette,”
which is the first step in quitting, says Dr. Fong.
Canada was the first country in the world to implement graphic warning labels, in December 2000. Those
labels served as the model for packaging regulations
adopted by the World Health Organization in 2003.
But warning labels can lose their effectiveness
over time if they’re not revised or updated, which
was the case in Canada, says Dr. Fong. He was concerned, therefore, when Health Canada announced
in 2010 that it would delay implementing new, larger
and more “emotive” warnings. He shared his concerns
in testimony to the Parliamentary Standing Committee
on Health this past December. Three weeks later the
health minister announced the revised warnings would
The U.S., meanwhile, will likely get its first graphic
tobacco warnings in 2012, the first change in cigarette
packaging regulations there in more than 25 years.
Some U.S. lawmakers dismiss the effectiveness of
such labels, to which Dr. Fong responds: “The ITC
project has shown it’s worked in every country so far.
So it’s a good bet it’s going to work there too.”
– léo charbonneau