Evidence shows potential of plain packaging to reduce tobacco demand
Washington, D.C., 31 May 2016 (PAHO/WHO) — This year the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) is commemorating World No Tobacco Day by highlighting the potential of plain tobacco packaging to reduce demand for a product that globally kills almost 6 million people annually, 1 million of whom reside in the Region of the Americas. These deaths are eminently preventable through tobacco control.
Under the theme "Get ready for plain packaging," the campaign for this year's World No Tobacco Day focuses on how this measure eliminates misleading information and boosts the effectiveness of health warnings.
Plain packaging of tobacco products restricts or prohibits the use of logos, colors, brand images and promotional information on packaging other than brand and product names displayed in a standard color and font style. Scientific studies show that plain packaging is effective in reducing the attractiveness of tobacco products to consumers.
Plain packaging is recommended in the WHO FCTC guidelines as part of a comprehensive approach to tobacco control that also includes large graphic health warnings and comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.
"As packaging is an important part of tobacco advertising and promotion, plain packaging offers the potential for enhancing the effectiveness of health warnings that draw attention to the deadly effects of tobacco use, while simultaneously deglamorizing its use," says PAHO Director Carissa F. Etienne.
In 2012, Australia became the first country to fully implement plain packaging. France, Ireland and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland have passed laws to begin implementing plain packaging starting in May 2016. Other countries—some in the Region of the Americas—are also exploring this option.
Evidence from Australia supports the efficacy of this measure, as have a number of experimental studies and systematic reviews. "Countries around the world and in the Americas are critically examining this evidence in order to ensure that their decisions and interventions are based on the best public health evidence," noted Etienne.
The tobacco epidemic
In the Americas, approximately 17% of the adult population uses tobacco. Tobacco control is a powerful tool for improving health in communities and advancing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG target 3.4, which calls for reducing premature deaths from noncommunicable diseases by one-third by 2030. Tobacco use is a leading risk factor for NCDs such as cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory diseases, cancers and diabetes. In the Americas, NCDs accounted for 4.3 million deaths (77% of all registered deaths) in 2012, and 35% of these were premature, occurring among people aged 30 to 70.
About the WHO FCTC
The WHO Framework Convention for Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) entered into force in 2005. Parties are obliged to take a number of steps to reduce demand and supply for tobacco products. Actions addressed in the Convention include protecting people from exposure to tobacco smoke, banning tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, banning sales to minors, requiring health warnings on tobacco packaging, promoting tobacco cessation, increasing tobacco taxes and creating a national coordinating mechanism for tobacco control. There are 180 State Parties to the Convention, 30 of which are from the Region of the Americas.