We have been waiting for information from the Federal Government regarding the Plain Packaging changes in store for tobacco products.

With permission from DepQuebec, we can share the following information…

” Much awaited by the Canadian c-store industry, the approved and final regulation on plain and standardized packaging of tobacco products is scheduled to be unveiled this week by Federal Health Minister, Ginette Petitpas Taylor.

But once again, DepQuébec is proud to be the first to bring out the news as it fits to the number one web news portal on c-store issues in Canada.

For all those interested out there, no need to wait any longer because the final regulation is available right now by clicking HERE.

And there we go: the most important regulatory change ever imposed on tobacco products will officially come into force in less than a year, on February 7, 2020.

From then on, all cigarettes sold by c-stores will be in plain, dull and brown packs in either regular or king size format (slide & shell & flip top to start with and slide & shell only a year after). Nothing else.

And of course, without any genuine brand logo anywhere on the packaging.

Not something smokers will likely appreciate but for the organized crime, a fantastic opportunity to grow their market share!

It took almost a year for Health Canada officials to finalize the plain packaging regulation once Bill S-5 was passed. And it will take another 9 months for it to come into full force

A carbon copy of the draft

The final regulation obtained by DepQuébec shows no significant changes to the proposed draft and this, despite a three-month long consultation among stakeholders.

The retained format is the so-called “slide & shell pack”, the most commonly used and sold by the contraband industry (unlike the “flip top” package). No longer will we see any variety: there will be only one format. The package surface will be mostly occupied by the health warning with, at the bottom, the centered brand name mention without any distinction other than the name.

All tobacco brands will be featured with the same font (Lucida Sans), the same size (14 points), the same color (Pantone Cool Gray 2C) and the same dull brown background (Pantone 448C). In addition, brand names including a color or suggesting a filter property (such as a number for example) will be prohibited, so that brands like “Number 7” and “Mark Ten” will soon become a reminiscence of the past.

The confusion will also occur via the cigarettes sticks. While at the moment, legal sticks are very distinctive, under plain packaging, they will become almost identical to contraband cigarettes. Add just an alphanumeric number and the imitation will be perfect.

A boon for bandits, a nightmare for retailers

For the illegal tobacco industry, this new regulation represents the best hope of renewed profits and opportunities after years of declining sales.

Indeed, thanks to this brillant regulation, legal tobacco packaging will adopt the current standards of contraband tobacco.

Both will become identical in every aspect apart from minor details. It will become virtually impossible to differentiate legal from illegal. And while so far contraband products have shied away from naming their products exactly like legal brands, this time around they well may decide to make that step.

For example, take the PlayFare’s contraband tobacco brand, produced and sold in the Native reserve of Kahnawake. It is as close the illegal manufacturers will go to mimick the popular Player’s brand. But as of next year, we may well see Player’s brand copied and used by contraband manufacturers in their new plain packaging products since it will become so easy to imitate — by just using the Lucida Sans font, 14 pts.

After adopting plain packaging for their illicit products, thus confusing them perfectly with legal products, we may well see illegal manufacturers using the legal brand name of the legal competitor, thus completely muddying the waters of what’s legal and illegal.

Such possibility is far from being just a paranoid fantasy. In a recent article (see here), DepQuebec reported the RCMP’s own concerns to the reality that plain packaging will bring the country in new, uncharted territory:

“Of consideration to RCMP is that neither Australia nor the UK have a robust and domestic contraband tobacco manufacturing industry. Plain packaging laws may present opportunities for organized crime groups to further penetrate the legal tobacco market through counterfeiting. This concern was relayed to the Forum.” – RCMP meeting briefing

A year of challenges

As for honest and hard-working retailers, the end of this year as well as early next year may bring quite a few challenges. As usual, they will have no choice but to adapt to a complete overhaul of tobacco products as well as having to deal with the repercussions of this change on a daily basis with their customers.

It goes without saying that a period of adaptation will be necessary for store clerks to become accustomed to new products and their location on the shelves.

However, this is nothing compared to the burden of dealing with customers. Many may express frustration when they realize for the first time that their favorite product’s packaging has gone for good.

This is by far the biggest transformation the tobacco market has ever experienced since the contraband peak that was reached in the middle of the last decade.

And because retailers still derive the bulk of their sales and profits from tobacco, they must prepare for the shock created by the upcoming plain packaging regulation in February 2020.