Health Canada debuts graphic new cigarette pack anti-smoking warning labels

Health Canada has unveiled a new set of gruesome images to adorn cigarette packages.

The Toronto Sun calls the new warning labels, replacing those first mandated in 2000, the toughest the Canadian tobacco market has ever seen.

Under new guidelines first announced in March, the warnings must cover three quarters of cigarette and little cigar (cigarillo) packages, up from 50 per cent under the previous rules.

Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said larger warnings are intended to "better reach people with low literacy levels, heavy smokers, and people thinking about quitting," the Sun reported.

"As a result of action taken by our government, smoking rates in Canada are at an all-time low."

The war on tobacco has been non-partisan, with Progressive Conservatives, Liberals and now the laissez-faire Conservatives committed to reducing smoking rates and their inevitable health costs.

The most recent Canadian tobacco use monitoring survey, completed in 2010, shows the smoking rate among Canadians aged 15 and over declined to 17 per cent, compared with 25 per cent in 1999, despite a 3.8-million increase in Canada's overall population.

But a senior policy analyst for the Canadian Cancer Society said the program's success doesn't mean smoking opponents can exhale. The new crop of stark images showing the consequences of smoking are needed, Rob Cunningham told the Sun.

"A picture says a thousand words," he said. "These warnings are going to have an impact to reduce smoking. These are very vivid images, the truth about what smoking really does to the body.

"Tobacco companies oppose these warnings, which is a clear indication these warnings are going to work."

The 16 new labels include the image of the late Barbara Tarbox, who appeared in anti-smoking public service TV spots before dying of lung cancer at age 42. The labels include a toll-free phone number to get help quitting smoking.

But after a decade of looking at other stomach-churning images under the previous rules, it's questionable whether hard-core smokers will be moved by these new ones.

"I don't even look at them, I just buy the cigarettes," longtime smoker Phil Morrison of Halifax told CBC News.

"I've been smoking for about 30 years," added Ali Roshani. "I'm not going to stop it now."

Retailers have until June 19 to sell their old inventory of smokes before the new labels become mandatory.