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Updated Date 20 jan 2014
Creation Date 19 jan 2014
Expiration Date 19 jan 2015

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Discount cigarettes [2010 health canada brochure]

Revised 2011
ISBN 978 1 100 17397 9
Cat. No. H128 1/10 625E PDF

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(PDF Version 195 K) Key Messages

  • The smoke from discount cigarettes contains the same chemicals, in similar concentrations, as the smoke from premium cigarettes.
  • Smoking discount cigarettes poses the same risk of harmful health effects as smoking other Canadian cigarettes.


Over the last decade, (2000 2010), price competition between cigarette manufacturers has resulted in a significant number of «discount» cigarettes being introduced to the market. These cheaper brands have become increasingly popular with Canadian smokers and have gained considerable market share from premium brands. Discount cigarettes are defined as cigarettes sold at a price below the average unit wholesale price, while premium cigarettes are defined as cigarettes sold at a price above the average unit wholesale price. Figure 1 illustrates how the sales of a discount brand increased for one manufacturer while the sales of one of its premium brands decreased over a few years.

The availability of cheaper cigarettes has raised concerns about their impact on public health. Evidence has shown that «individuals have switched to lower priced discount brands rather than quitting smoking or decreasing the number of cigarettes smoked.»Footnote 1

Figure 1 Total unit wholesale sales in Canada of a discount and a premium brand from the same manufacturer, 2000 2008Footnote 2

Tobacco smoke contains over 4,000 different chemicals that are formed when tobacco burns. At least 70 of these are known to be cancer causing.

To assess the potential health impacts of discount cigarettes, Health Canada characterized and compared selected discount and premium brands.


Physical characteristics and tobacco composition are shown in Table 1 for one discount and premium brand. The choice of brand was based on declared tar value. No statistically significant difference in length, diameter, tobacco weight, ventilation, tobacco pH, smoke PH and nicotine content per cigarette was observed between premium and discount cigarettes. In addition, both types contain the same additives.

Table 1 Comparison of physical characteristics and tobacco compositionFootnote 2 of a discount and a premium cigarette brand from the same manufacturer Premium A Discount A