WHO gives full support to Australia's plain tobacco packaging

News release

The World Health Organization (WHO) continues to stand with Australia as it resists the tobacco industry's efforts to prevent plain packaging of tobacco products.

"Australia scored a major victory when its highest court recently upheld the country's novel plain packaging law," said Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, during the sixty-third session of the WHO Regional Committee for the Western Pacific. “But the industry is suing in other venues. The fight isn’t over, and neither is WHO’s solidarity with Australia. The Regional Committee, WHO’s governing body in the Western Pacific, emphasizes the need to resist and counteract tobacco industry interference with full implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.”

Plain packaging refers to standardized packaging that requires removal of all branding—colours, imagery, corporate logos and trademarks—allowing tobacco manufacturers to print only the brand name in a mandated size, font and place on the pack, in addition to health warnings, including information on toxic elements.

The tobacco industry is lobbying aggressively to maintain its profits at the expense of public health. Australia is the first country to require tobacco products to be sold in plain, brand-free packs. The industry would like to smother the Australian law before other countries adopt it.

The Regional Committee reviewed progress made on tobacco control in the Region, including implementation by Member States of the Regional Action Plan for the Tobacco Free Initiative in the Western Pacific (2010–2014).

Tobacco use is one of the leading preventable causes of death. One third of the world’s smokers reside in the Western Pacific Region, where it is estimated that two people die every minute from tobacco-related disease.

The prevalence of tobacco use among adults is falling in 21 of the Region’s 37 countries and areas. In response, the industry has been focusing more attention on enticing youths to use tobacco.

However, in eight Pacific island countries in particular, there is an upward trend because of cheap and easily accessible cigarettes. To counter rising tobacco use, WHO’s Pacific Tobacco Taxation Project (PTTP) was launched recently to provide country-level support for raising prices and taxes of tobacco to significantly reduce tobacco consumption and the corresponding risk of noncommunicable diseases. Studies show that increasing the price of tobacco through higher taxation is the single most cost-effective way to bring down consumption and encourage smokers to quit.

The Regional Action Plan sets a target of a 10% reduction in tobacco use prevalence in adults and youth for smoked and smokeless tobacco in Member States before 2015. While there has been good progress in many countries and areas, Dr Shin said stronger demand-reduction efforts are needed, such as increasing tobacco prices and taxes and using graphic pictorial health warnings. The action plan also serves as a guide for the complete implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, developed in response to the globalization of the tobacco epidemic.

The Regional Committee, which meets annually to review WHO’s work in the Western Pacific, urged Member States to take strong action to support:

  • demand-reduction measures related to tobacco prices and taxes;
  • pictorial health warnings;
  • 100% smoke-free indoor policies;
  • bans on advertising, promotion and sponsorship, including through plain packaging.

For more information or to request an interview, please contact:

Ms Marilu Lingad
Mobile (Viet Nam): +84 (0)1272643638
Mobile (Philippines): +63 908 891 4532
E-mail: lingadm@wpro.who.int

Mr Timothy O'Leary
Mobile (Viet Nam): +84 (0)1252093845
Mobile (Philippines): +63 908 886 8738
E-mail: olearyt@wpro.who.int

Share