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TORONTO (Reuters) - You can browse the latest porn magazines at Canadian shops, but tough new laws mean that cigarette packages are simply too suggestive.
Shop owners in Ontario, Quebec and a few other provinces must now hide tobacco products from their customers under rules that will cover most of Canada by year-end as the country tries to stamp out smoking by young people.
The provincial governments want to discourage the habit by "de-normalizing" the presence of cigarettes, which typically enjoyed prime placement behind the cash register.
Retailers must store cigarettes in drawers or behind grey wall coverings that cost as much as C$1,000 ($980), leaving some fuming over the cost, inconvenience, and hypocrisy.
"It's a pain in the ass, and a double-standard that the government supports liquor sales," said a Toronto shop owner who did not want to be named, but who noted children too young to buy pornography are still free to eye the plastic-covered magazines, which are only partly hidden by their shelving.
"It's kind of like a nanny state."
The law has its critics, including those who point accusingly at Ontario's provincially owned liquor stores. But advocates say the seemingly draconian measure will eventually work, and is too important to get bogged down by morality.
"Pornography, with all its faults and deficits, won't kill you," said Michael Perley, director of the Ontario Campaign for
Action on Tobacco, an anti-smoking lobby group. "Tobacco industry products kill one in two of their long-term users."
Perley's group, backed by national cancer and medical associations, complains that the cigarette industry paid retailers to display their colorful products in prominent positions in retail stores.
The latest move puts Canada, which already bans cigarette advertising and sports sponsorships by tobacco companies, among a small group of countries which hides tobacco products at the cash register.
Iceland was first in 2001 and Thailand followed in 2005, while Ireland is moving in the same direction.
Canadian retailers complain the law will confuse customers and sellers, and stifle sales of their top product.
But the provinces, which are responsible for managing Canada's publicly funded healthcare system, say they are trying to curb the country's No. 1 cause of early death, cancer.
Canada's explicit health warnings on tobacco products, including graphic images of blackened lungs and rotten teeth, are already considered among the world's most direct.
"It doesn't take long to de-normalize social psychology," said Toronto cigarette-smoker Karolina Jonsson. "People underestimate just how much advertising we are exposed to every day, and cigarettes are the same."
Reporting by Jonathan Spicer, editing by Janet Guttsman