More and more countries using graphic anti-smoking labelling, UN reports

7 July 2011

About a billion people, if they wanted to buy a pack of cigarettes, are facing some pretty off-putting and sometimes gruesome graphics on the package cover, the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) said today, marking the success of its warning campaign.

In its third annual report on the global tobacco epidemic, launched today in Montevideo, Uruguay, the agency said more than one billion people in 19 countries are now covered by laws requiring large, graphic health warnings on packages of tobacco, nearly double the number of two years ago, when only about 547 million people were covered in 16 countries. Some of the warnings show rotten teeth and cancerous lungs.

Mexico, Peru and the United States became the latest countries to require the large, graphic warnings, which are proven to motivate people to stop using tobacco and to reduce the appeal for people who are not yet addicted, WHO said.

This year’s report, which concentrates on packaging laws and anti-smoking media campaigns, said more than 1.9 billion people live in the 23 countries that have implemented at least one strong media campaign within the last two years.

“We are pleased that more and more people are being adequately warned about the dangers of tobacco use,” says WHO Assistant Director-General for Non-communicable Diseases and Mental Health, Ala Alwan.

“At the same time, we can’t be satisfied that the majority of countries are doing nothing or not enough. We urge all countries to follow the best practices for reducing tobacco consumption and to become parties to, and fully implement, the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.”

The other measures involve monitoring tobacco use; protecting people from tobacco smoke; helping users quit; enforcing bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship; and raising taxes on tobacco

Each measure corresponds to at least one provision of the Framework Convention, which has been in force since 2005 and to which more than 170 countries and the European Union have already become parties.

Of the world’s more than one billion tobacco smokers, more than 80 per cent live in low- and middle-income countries and up to half will eventually die of a tobacco-related disease, WHO said.

This year alone, the tobacco epidemic will kill nearly six million people, according to the agency. More than five million of them will be users and ex-users of smoked and smokeless tobacco and more than 600,000 will be non-smokers who were exposed to tobacco smoke.

By 2030, tobacco could kill eight million people a year. In addition, tobacco use is one of the biggest contributors to the non-communicable diseases epidemic, which includes heart disease, stroke, cancers and emphysema and accounts for 63 per cent of deaths.

“Large, graphic health warnings of the sort pioneered by Uruguay, Canada and a handful of other countries are an effective means of reducing tobacco’s appeal,” said the Director of WHO’s Tobacco Free Initiative, Douglas Bettcher.

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