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A Dying Activist's Photo Among New, Larger, Graphics For Cigarette Labels

Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq at a news conference in Ottawa on Dec. 30, 2010. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Pawel Dwulit.

A deathbed photo of a lung cancer victim is among the new, more explicit graphics for cigarette package labels in Canada.

The new warning labels would cover 75 per cent of the front and back of packages and rotate through a series of 16 designs that also include a national telephone quit line.

The labels are an important step in preventing people from taking up smoking and helping those who do smoke to quit, said Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq.

She unveiled four of the designs on Thursday, including one of anti-smoking activist Barb Tarbox, who died of lung cancer in 2003 at the age of 42.

Her photo is accompanied by the words “this is what dying of lung cancer looks like.”

“Using a testimonial from her tragic story will make people stop and think about the dangers of tobacco use,” Aglukkaq said.

There is also a label featuring the photo of a coughing child in the back seat of a car, cigarette smoke wafting around her and the message “smoking in the car hurts more than just you.”

But the new designs won’t grace packages in time for people hoping to quit on New Year’s Day.

There has to be a consultation process first and the details of the national quit line are still being ironed out.

“I will be moving as quickly as I can to see these labels introduced in 2011,” Aglukkaq told a news conference on Thursday.

Canada was the first country to require graphic warning labels on all cigarette packages.

They featured pictures of diseased lungs and teeth as well as warnings about second-hand smoke.

But anti-smoking activists have argued that the 10-year-old warnings no longer packed much of a punch.

The government has spent almost $4 million to develop the new health warnings.

Aglukkaq has been under fire since September when she abruptly postponed introduction of the updated warnings about the dangers of smoking.

Critics accused her of backing down in the face of stiff opposition by cigarette manufacturers.

Aglukkaq denied shelving the new labels, insisting that she simply wanted time to review the government’s broader communications strategy on tobacco before making a final decision on how to proceed.

Liberal health critic Ujjal Dosanjh said the announcement was about bending to public pressure.

“(Thursday’s) announcement is long overdue and suggests the tobacco lobby continues to have a tight grip on this government,” Dosanjh said in a statement.

“Make no mistake, the minister’s announcement is damage control for a government who puts its own interests – and the interests of powerful insiders – ahead of the health and safety of Canadians.”