Original cannabis journalism for Canadians

Big Tobacco is jealous of legal cannabis packaging

A proposed plain cigarette package, shown in front of a variety of cigarette packages in 2016. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

New cannabis industry regulations announced by Health Canada this week include guidelines for legal marijuana packaging, and the tobacco industry is crying foul.

Last week, Health Canada released its new proposed regulations for tobacco packaging. The rules would restrict tobacco packages to a standard shape and size, and require all packages to be "the same unappealing colour." Tobacco companies would also be severely restricted in how they can display their brand name on packaging.

The cannabis packaging rules are also restrictive, but they allow much more differentiation between packages. At the very least, cannabis companies get to choose the colour of their packages (with the exception of fluorescent and metallic tones). Plus, cannabis packaging can include one "brand element," including a small image.

"Health Canada and the Liberal party seem to take a very pragmatic approach when dealing with marijuana," says Eric Gagnon, head of corporate and regulatory affairs for Imperial Tobacco Canada.

"They say that manufacturers need to have branding in order to compete with illegal traffickers. And yet, when we make these arguments, knowing that 25 per cent of the market in Canada of tobacco is illegal, we are denied those rights. And these are the types of measures that we don't agree with."

David Hammond, who studies tobacco labelling as a professor of public health at the University of Waterloo, suggests the government has good reason to make tobacco packaging more restrictive than weed packaging: from a public health perspective, tobacco is much more harmful than cannabis.

"The main rationale may be that approximately 45,000 Canadians die every year from tobacco use compared to approximately 280 from cannabis," he in an email to the Leaf News.

"The main determinants of illicit tobacco sales are price and availability, not packaging. This is likely to be true for cannabis as it has been for tobacco."

Gagnon "(recognizes) the health risks associated with smoking," but that packaging doesn't play much of a role in encouraging smoking.

"This is a PR initiative by the government of Canada, supported by the anti-tobacco lobbyists," he said.

"But at the end of the day it will not achieve any of the stated anti-health objectives. The only thing we're asking is, as a legal company and as a legal industry, we should have the right to have our brands on our products."

The federal government's consultation period on its proposed tobacco packaging runs until September 6, and future media coverage of cannabis packaging will give the Canadian tobacco industry a golden opportunity to spread its message.

Expect to hear Big Tobacco's "cannabis packaging versus tobacco packaging" argument again in the near future.


New on The Leaf

  • Regulatory certainty: Ottawa unveiled the new regulations for the Canadian cannabis industry this week.
  • Medicating vs. having a good time: What's the difference between "medical" and "recreational" marijuana? Herb knows.
  • Job creation: Salaries at Quebec's provincial weed monopoly start at $14 per hour.

Elsewhere on the Weed Wide Web

  • Price check: Ontario's provincial weed monopoly is pressuring suppliers to cut prices on "entry-level cannabis," reports the Globe and Mail.
  • Buy Canadian: Why won't Canadians be able to legally purchase weed grown in other countries? Patrick Cain reports for Global News.
  • The future of medical cannabis: In a Twitter thread, Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana lays out the basics of how new regulations will impact medical cannabis users.

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