The federal government's decision to extinguish plans for new warning labels on cigarette packages cost more than $3.6 million over six years, according to documents released Tuesday.

The documents were revealed at the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health. They show that Health Canada spent $3.15 million on public opinion research, contracts and other miscellaneous expenses before suddenly retreating on the plans.

About $1.9 million of that figure was spent on public-opinion research, $945,000 was spent on contracts and a little less than $500,000 was transferred to the provinces to develop a national anti-smoking "Quitline" 1-800 phone number. Another $305,000 paid for other expenses, such as travel and hotel rooms.

In late September, Health Canada abruptly announced at a closed-door meeting that it was suspending plans for larger and more graphic warning labels on cigarette packages.

The new labels were supposed to increase in size, and take up 75 per cent of each cigarette package. The department was also considering warnings with more disturbing photos, to see if they would better deter smokers. One image considered for the new warnings showed lung cancer patient Barb Tarbox of Alberta, who spent her final months warning Canadians about the hazards of smoking.

The government also put the kibosh on plans to promote the quit-smoking telephone line.

No explanation was given for the government's sudden change of direction. Officials said they would instead focus on efforts to fight contraband tobacco, which have become widely available in Canada.

Earlier this month, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq told the House health committee she put the changes on hold so her department can consider whether they're the most effective way to reach smokers.

"I don't think there's anything wrong with taking a step back to re-examine whether we are making the investment in the right place," as part of a prevention strategy, she said.