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The Globe and Mail

Canadians split on effectiveness of graphic cigarette labels

A majority of Canadians who smoke don't think new graphic images on cigarette packages – those featuring an emaciated and dying Barb Tarbox – will do much to get them to quit, according to a new online poll.

A majority of non-smoking Canadians, meanwhile, believe the images, which will take up 75 per cent of the space on a cigarette package, will be effective in getting people to quit.

The Angus Reid/Vision Critical poll of 1,022 Canadians was conducted between Jan. 4 and Jan. 5. The changes to cigarette packaging were announced by federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq last month.

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Poll respondents were asked to look at four of the new images, including one featuring the 42-year-old Ms. Tarbox with the caption "This is what dying of lung cancer looks like." A picture of a young boy with a breathing apparatus is also used, warning about the side-effects of second hand smoke. Angus Reid then asked respondents whether the images will be "effective or ineffective in convincing smokers to quit."

Forty-eight per cent of all respondents said the images will be "very" or "moderately effective" compared to 33 per cent of those who identified themselves as frequent smokers. And 47 per cent of those who say they are occasional smokers believe the images will be very or moderately effective.

But 61 per cent of frequent smokers are skeptical. They say the images will be moderately or very ineffective in persuading people to quit compared to 45 per cent of all respondents.

Angus Reid vice president of public affairs Jaideep Mukerji says he found the reaction of the smokers the most interesting and revealing.

"A majority of them are supportive of the packaging in general, and a plurality think that this current wave are just about right in terms of graphic content," Mr. Mukerji told The Globe in an email. "I think it points to a recognition among smokers that theirs is a bad habit that the government should be attempting to discourage. Support for these kinds of measures is broad-based across the country and among demographic groups."

But he says Canadians are realistic – recognizing that it will take more than difficult images on cigarette packages to make people quit.

Still, the online survey also found that 60 per cent of Canadians believe the images are "about right" while 24 per cent would prefer they be even more graphic.

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The government's decision to take over the cigarette packaging was controversial, with tobacco companies objecting to increasing the size of warnings that were already taking up half of the package. However, six-years of consultations costing $3.6 million showed that the packaging and warnings needed updating as the impact of the old packaging labels was waning.

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