WHO advocates total ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship

News release

On World No Tobacco Day (31 May), the World Health Organization (WHO) calls for a comprehensive ban on all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.

"As called for in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, governments must comprehensively ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship," says WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific Dr Shin Young-soo. “We must halt the tobacco industry’s aggressive marketing of its products, which cause addiction, suffering and millions of deaths each year.”

Comprehensive bans should include point-of-sale (PoS) advertising, a last refuge of advertising still allowed in most countries where all other kinds of tobacco advertising have been banned. Children are exposed to point-of-sale advertising, since cigarettes are often sold near candy and other items aimed at children.

After Hong Kong (China) banned tobacco advertising in broadcast media, billboards and print media, it was found that brand recognition remained high at 30% to 64% among children whose families were non-smoking because PoS advertising and sponsorship were not controlled.

To subvert marketing bans, the tobacco industry has shifted to forms of indirect advertising, such as sponsorship of sports or cultural events and viral marketing, including word-of-mouth marketing.

The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) entered into force in 2005. It obliges its 176 Parties to take incremental action to reduce demand and supply for tobacco products including: protecting people from exposure to tobacco smoke; counteracting illicit trade; banning advertising, promotion and sponsorship; banning sales to minors; putting large health warnings on packages of tobacco; increasing tobacco taxes and creating a national coordinating mechanism for tobacco control. Of the six WHO regions, the WHO Western Pacific Region remains the only one in which all eligible Member States have ratified the WHO FCTC.

Evidence shows that comprehensive advertising bans lead to reductions in the number of people starting and continuing smoking. Moreover, comprehensive bans work to counteract: the deceptive and misleading nature of tobacco marketing campaigns; the unavoidable exposure of young people to tobacco marketing; the failure of the tobacco industry to effectively self-regulate; and the ineffectiveness of partial bans.

Nearly 80% of countries and areas in the Region now ban direct advertising of tobacco on national television, and half of the Region’s countries and areas now ban one of the main forms of indirect advertising—product placement of tobacco brands in television and films.

Moreover, in December 2012, Australia became the first country to sell cigarettes in standardized drab, dark brown packaging with large graphic health markings. There are no tobacco industry logos, brand imagery, colours or promotional text. Plain packaging is a highly effective way to counter the tobacco industry’s ruthless marketing tactics. Also in 2012, Viet Nam adopted a Law on Prevention and Control of Tobacco Harms, which bans advertising and sponsorship by tobacco companies. Cambodia adopted a Sub-Decree on Measures for the Banning of Tobacco Product Advertising in 2011, which prohibits all direct advertising and sponsorship. In Palau, the Tobacco Control Act in 2011 resulted in a complete ban of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.

Tobacco use is a leading cause of preventable death, killing nearly 6 million people globally each year. Of this number, more than 600 000 are non-smokers who die from exposure to second-hand smoke. Unless urgent action is taken, the annual death toll could rise to more than 8 million by 2030. No consumer product kills as many people, and as needlessly, as tobacco. Tobacco killed 100 million people in the 20th century. Unless urgent action is taken, the figure could rise to 1 billion in the 21st century.

Tobacco use is one of the biggest contributors to the epidemic of noncommunicable diseases in the Western Pacific Region, which is home to more than one fourth of the world’s population. In the Region, it is estimated that two people die every minute from tobacco-related disease, and half of all women and children are regularly exposed to second-hand smoke at home and in public places. Moreover, the Western Pacific Region has the greatest number of smokers; the highest rates of male smokers; and the fastest increase in tobacco uptake by women and young people. In the Region, 12% of all deaths are attributable to tobacco.

Globally, tobacco use is responsible for an estimated 7% of all deaths due to tuberculosis and 12% of deaths due to lower respiratory infections. Among the major noncommunicable diseases, tobacco use is responsible for 10% of all deaths from cardiovascular diseases, 22% of all cancer deaths, and 36% of all deaths from diseases of the respiratory system. Moreover, tobacco use is responsible for 71% of all lung cancer deaths and 42% of all chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases.

WHO recognizes people and institutions that have made outstanding contributions to the advancement of the policies and measures contained in the WHO FCTC and its guidelines. This year, WHO presents World No Tobacco Day awards to the following from the Western Pacific Region:

  • Phnom Penh Capital City, Cambodia
  • Dr Huang Jiefu, Chinese Association on Tobacco Control, China
  • Ministry of Health, Cook Islands
  • Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health, Hong Kong (China)
  • Dr Zarihah Binti Dato' Mohd. Zain, Lincoln University College, Malaysia
  • President Benigno S. Aquino III and the Sin Tax Team, the Philippines

For more information, please contact:

Dr Maria Carmen Audera-Lopez
Technical Officer, Tobacco Free Initiative
Tel.: +632 528 9897
E-mail: auderalopezc@wpro.who.int

Mr Timothy O'Leary
Public Information Officer
Tel.: +632 528 9992
E-mail: olearyt@wpro.who.int