Countries urged to follow the lead of Brazil, Canada, Chile, Panama, Uruguay and Venezuela
Washington, D.C., May 29, 2009 (PAHO/WHO) - Graphic images depicting the sickness and suffering caused by tobacco use should be mandatory on packaging for all tobacco products, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said today on the eve of World No Tobacco Day, 31 May.
"We're calling on our member countries to enact laws and regulations that require picture warnings that tell the truth about the health effects of tobacco," said PAHO Director Dr. Mirta Roses. "Tobacco companies should not be allowed to fool people into thinking that smoking is anything but harmful and ugly."
Although tobacco is the world's leading preventable cause of death-killing more than 5 million people yearly-many people do not understand the specific health risks.
Research has shown that picture-based warnings can raise awareness of these risks and are effective in motivating smokers to quit and in reducing the appeal of tobacco use for people who are not yet addicted.
In Brazil, which began requiring pictorial warnings in 2002, 54 percent of smokers changed their opinions on the health consequences of smoking as a result of the warnings, and two-thirds of smokers said the warnings made them want to quit. Calls to a toll-free "quit line" in Brazil increased nearly ninefold following implementation of graphic health warnings.
Similarly, in Canada, 58 percent of smokers said they thought more about the health effects of smoking because of the warnings, 44 percent said the warnings increased their motivation to quit, and 27 percent said they smoked less inside their homes as a result of picture warnings.
Other advantages of picture-based tobacco warnings include:
- They communicate health risks to people who cannot read.
- They detract from the attractiveness of tobacco packaging and therefore act as a deterrent to new users, who are often young and image-conscious.
- They are overwhelmingly supported by the public.
- The cost to governments is minimal.
Currently, six countries in the Americas require picture warnings on tobacco products: Canada (since 2001), Brazil (since 2002), Venezuela (since 2005), and Chile, Panama, and Uruguay (since 2006). Peru is expected to require them starting in mid-2009.
Most other countries in the hemisphere have some regulations but do not require pictorial warnings and have not yet implemented other key measures specified in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), such as banning deceitful terms and requiring health warnings to cover at least 30 percent of the principal display areas on tobacco packaging. Twenty-six countries in the Americas and more than 160 worldwide have ratified the FCTC, making it one of the most widely embraced treaties in U.N. history.
"Now that some of our countries have become leaders in tobacco control, others need to follow their example," said PAHO Director Roses.
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