WHO: Picture warnings on tobacco products save lives

News release

Manila, 28 May 2009 - The World Health Organization (WHO) today called on governments to use graphic pictures on tobacco products to show the frightening physical results of smoking.

In a statement, WHO said that the tobacco industry spends vast sums of money to produce packaging that makes a deadly product look safe and appealing. To counter that effect, packets should show shocking photos of lung tumours, blood clots in the brain and decaying gums, WHO said. "Experience from around the world shows that pictorial warnings motivate users to quit and discourage people from starting," said Dr Shin Young‑soo, WHO's Regional Director for the Western Pacific.

Tobacco is the world's leading preventable cause of death and the only product that kills when used exactly as the manufacturer intends. Worldwide, more than 5 million people die from tobacco each year — more than from HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. In the Western Pacific Region, tobacco use is responsible for two deaths every minute. Unless urgent action is taken, there will be more than 8 million annual deaths globally by 2030, with more than 80% of those in developing countries. Up to half of all smokers will die from a tobacco‑related disease.

"Countries have obligations to use health warnings on tobacco products as part of the implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control," said Dr Shin. "It is an easy and cost-effective way to inform people about the truth and to reduce tobacco consumption."

To mark World No Tobacco Day, which falls on 31 May, five countries are receiving awards for outstanding work on pictorial health warnings.

The WHO Special Director-General Award honours Mongolia's Working Team on Public Health Warnings on Tobacco Products for its outstanding contributions in developing and adopting pictorial health warnings. The working group is composed of several government ministries, agencies and nongovernmental organizations. The group developed more than 30 pictorial health warnings and later selected six after comprehensive research. The pictures, which will start to appear in January 2010, take up one third of both the front and back of tobacco packaging.

Other World No Tobacco Day Award winners in the Western Pacific Region are:

  • Dato' Dr Ramlee Bin Rahmat, Director of the Public Health Department, Ministry of Health, Malaysia, for his outstanding leadership in the tobacco control legislation process, which resulted in the Control of Tobacco Product Regulation that requires the mandatory display of six sets of pictorial health warnings. He also plays a key role in leading the nation's anti-tobacco media campaign.
  • Department of Health and Ageing, Commonwealth of Australia, for its 15 years of outstanding achievement in developing and implementing stronger and more effective health warnings, especially with the introduction of pictorial health warnings in 2006. Its pictorial health warnings and effective media campaigns set an example for many countries in the Region and contribute to their tobacco‑control efforts.
  • The National Center for Health Promotion (NCHP), Ministry of Health, Cambodia, for its relentless efforts in leading the nation's fight against tobacco, developing and advocating a Draft Law on Tobacco Control and Government Circulation on Graphic Health Warnings. During this process, NCHP faced down numerous attempts by the tobacco industry to derail its efforts.
  • The National Smoking Control Programme, Singapore Health Promotion Board (SHPB), for its outstanding achievement and contribution in implementing pictorial health warnings in 2004. Singapore was the first country in the WHO Western Pacific Region to introduce pictorial health warnings. The new graphics occupy 50% of both front and back packaging and target current and potential smokers by illustrating the debilitating and deadly health effects associated with smoking. SHPB has been actively sharing its experience and knowledge on pictorial health warnings at both global and regional levels.

The regional World No Tobacco Day launch ceremony is to be held on 29 May 2009 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Dr Linda Milan, Director of Division of Building Healthy Communities and Populations in WHO's Regional Office for the Western Pacific, will give the keynote speech at the event.

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For more information, please contact Dr Susan Mercado, WHO Regional Adviser in Tobacco Free Initiative, at (632) 528 9894; e-mail: mercados@wpro.who.int