Plain and standardized: A new look for tobacco

The Government of Canada has published the final Tobacco Products Regulations (Plain and Standardized Appearance) under the Tobacco and Vaping Products Act. This is part of a global movement aimed at lessening the appeal of tobacco packages and products to reduce the inducement to use tobacco.

What you need to know

  • The Regulations were published on May 1 and come into force on November 9. However, product specific measures will be implemented in phases to allow industry time to adapt and update these products for the Canadian market.
  • The Regulations will standardize the appearance of tobacco packages, tobacco products, and devices for the use of tobacco products.
  • Most manufacturers will need to significantly modify their packaging and labelling operating procedures to satisfy the new requirements.


The Regulations contain general requirements applicable to all tobacco products, and specific requirements targeted to certain tobacco product types. In effect, the new requirements will eliminate the use of color on packaging, packages with rounded or beveled edges or novel openings and shapes, as well as slim and thin cigarette packages and cigarettes.

Tobacco packages

We list a few key requirements for tobacco packages below.

  • Colour and branding restrictions. All tobacco product packages must be drab brown color (except where the material is wood or metal) with a matte finish, without embossing or other distinct visual or tactile features on the exterior or interior surfaces. The packages may display a brand name, in a prescribed font, size, color and location, except for brand names that are prohibited by the Act or that evoke a color or characteristic of a filter.
    • For example, the Act prohibits displaying a vaping product brand element on the package of a tobacco product, or furnishing a tobacco product if any of its brand elements is displayed on a thing or is used with a service that is associated with young persons, appealing to young persons, or associated with a way of life (e.g., glamour, recreation, excitement, vitality, risk or daring).
  • Limited information. Limited prescribed information is permitted on the packages, and in specified font, size and colours (e.g., name and address of the manufacturer, net quantity and common name of the product, alphanumeric code, barcode and safe handling and storage information for device packaging).
  • Package shape and characteristics. Each primary package will only be permitted to contain a lining, a leaflet and a tobacco product. Cigarette packages will be in a standardized slide and shell format, in the shape of rectangular cuboid with no rounded or beveled edges, with prescribed dimensions, and made out of rigid cardboard. Little cigar packages will be in the shape of rectangular cuboid with no rounded or beveled edges (with certain exceptions) and made of rigid cardboard or metal. Packages for devices necessary for the use of a tobacco product or tobacco products intended for use with these devices will be in the shape of rectangular cuboid with no rounded or beveled edges. Every secondary package (i.e., the package that contains the primary tobacco product package) will also need to be a rectangular cuboid shape without any rounding or bevelling edges.
  • Other. There are plain and standardized packaging requirements for cigarette cases or bags that are furnished by a tobacco manufacturer (i.e., the bag does not originally contain tobacco products).

Tobacco products

The Regulations also alter the permitted appearance of tobacco products.

  • Tobacco products must conform to prescribed cigarette dimensions or standardized diameter for little cigars.
  • Only prescribed colors (white, drab brown, or imitate a cork pattern depending on the type and part of the product) in a matte finish for cigarettes, cigars, and other tobacco products will be permitted.
  • Apparent designs such as grooves, holes or recesses are prohibited on the visible parts of tobacco products (with certain exceptions).
  • The display of brand name in a prescribed manner will be permitted on cigars and devices. In particular for cigars, the brand name needs to be displayed on a band that is fitted around the circumference of the cigar and may appear only once on the band.

Transitional periods and phased implementation

The federal Minister of Health announced the new Regulations will begin to come into force on November 9, 2019. The majority of the provisions of the Regulations will be enforced on that day, but certain provisions will have a phased implementation timeline to provide manufacturers with time to update their labelling/packaging for compliance.

  • Cigars and packaging. Requirements for cigars and cigar packages (excluding little cigars) will come into force one year later on November 9, 2020.
  • Cigarette packaging. Certain requirements for cigarette packaging, namely the slide and shell format, the prohibition on round or beveled edges, as well as the prescribed packaging dimensions, will come into force two years later on November 9, 2021.
  • Tobacco products intended for use with a device. Certain requirements for tobacco products intended for use with a device will come into force two years later on November 9, 2021.

Further, tobacco retailers will be permitted to sell tobacco products that do not meet the new requirements under the Regulations for 90 days after the Regulations come into force, or 180 days after the relevant provisions of the Regulations come into force for cigars and cigar packages (as applicable).

Next Steps

The Regulations contain detailed and nuanced requirements for the packaging and appearance of different types of tobacco products. Companies in the tobacco industry should review these requirements carefully and plan to make operational changes accordingly, in order to meet with transitional time periods for compliance.

To discuss these issues, please contact the author(s).

This publication is a general discussion of certain legal and related developments and should not be relied upon as legal advice. If you require legal advice, we would be pleased to discuss the issues in this publication with you, in the context of your particular circumstances.

For permission to republish this or any other publication, contact Janelle Weed.

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