By Tom Keene and Sara Austen, CNN
(CNN) — After 40 years, Canada is officially getting rid of pack size limits on tobacco products.
Why is it different than the United States? It isn’t.
In Canada, about 17.7% of American adults smoke cigarettes. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines youth smoking at nearly 20% of youth ages 10 to 17. In the US, Canadians are in the same boats: They have roughly 17.7% of young people who smoke tobacco products.
Smoking has always been shown to be bad for one’s health. So, why have laws and regulations been in place that limit the amount of cigarettes sold? There are a handful of reasons.
For one, many of these countries wanted to reduce the number of smokers. Seemingly eliminating pack sizes would not only have no impact on increasing smoking but would actually serve as a barrier for young people wanting to begin smoking.
Secondly, these countries were fighting the tobacco industry. This industry tries to get its message out while also hiding behind religious beliefs to justify selling products that harm people. If you don’t consider the tobacco companies’ marketing, you would never know that anyone under 18 is allowed to purchase tobacco products in the United States.
Thirdly, if you don’t deny people access to a product that will harm them in the long term, they will be given something they want. It’s a classic case of “supply and demand.”
If these countries were to stay with current policy, cigarettes would be more expensive and more prevalent. Eventually people would not be able to afford to smoke. This would actually result in an increase in the number of smokers, since no one would be able to afford the cigarettes.
The history of the restrictions around pack sizes is a common theme. Many countries that have bans and restrictions on tobacco have had some of these packaging restrictions. Canada adopted this rule during the early 1970s. In the late 1970s, North American neighbors Japan and Canada raised taxes on tobacco products.
They combined these hikes in taxes with the measures that were already put in place at the time. It was then that a combination of taking cigarettes out of packages and tax hikes on cigarettes helped decrease smoking in North America.
In the early 2000s, the US realized that enforcement was a problem when it came to its cigarette tax laws. Eventually, politicians realized they would need to change those laws and didn’t get rid of them all at once. After several years, they slowly brought them back, with smaller caps on cigarette sizes, adding anti-smoking messages and restrictions on tobacco sales.
Tobacco companies are usually pretty satisfied when a new law is introduced. They are able to keep their advertisements out of children’s homes, and they can continue to fight taxes. Plus, they can try to justify their arguments that the restrictions further dissuade smokers from using their products. Many times, it works.
If Canada’s removal of package size limits is anything like tobacco taxes in the US, it might have made it slightly easier for consumers to purchase cigarettes, but they have no real impact on the rate of smoking in Canada.
Further, we know from studies done in the United States that adding warnings to cigarette packages would not make a difference in reducing the number of smokers. According to CDC research, 65% of smokers began smoking before age 18. If people are already smokers, then the warnings don’t really help their decision to stop.
Therefore, we should simply not argue about banning packs, because it doesn’t help anyone. Canadians shouldn’t be allowed to sell packs that, in comparison to the US, doesn’t have any restrictions at all.
And if they want to retain tax parity with the US, then they should back those taxes to limit smoking just as much as the US does.