WHO urges the use and promotion of plain packaging to reduce tobacco-related harms

News release

On World No Tobacco Day, the World Health Organization (WHO) in the Western Pacific continues its call for governments, civil society and other partners, to support the implementation and promotion of the use of plain packaging as a tobacco control measure.

Tobacco is one of the leading risk factors for noncommunicable diseases. One out of three smokers in the world—450 million smokers—lives in the Western Pacific Region. Half of the men in the Region smoke, with nearly half of children regularly exposed to deadly second-hand smoke. Every 30 seconds, a life is lost to tobacco-related disease.

"Plain packaging is a good public health measure because it prevents tobacco companies from using packaging as an effective marketing tool," said Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific. "Australia has paved the way and is the first country in the world to mandate plain packaging for tobacco products. This example can be followed to reduce the attractiveness and appeal of tobacco products to consumers. International solidarity is therefore vital to overcome the challenges of tobacco and reverse its dreadful effects," said Dr Shin.

The impact of plain packaging

Studies have shown that plain packaging decreases the appeal of tobacco products, restricts use of the pack as a form of advertising and promotion, limits misleading packaging and increases the effectiveness of health warnings. In December 2012, Australia's pioneering laws on tobacco plain packaging came into full effect. Since then, all tobacco products must be sold in drab dark brown packaging with large graphic health warnings that depict the health consequences of smoking, without logos or other advertising or promotion features.

WHO recommends that plain packaging be implemented as part of a comprehensive approach to tobacco control that includes comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship and other packaging and labelling measures, such as health warnings.

Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Fiji, Kiribati, Malaysia, Mongolia, New Zealand, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Viet Nam, have adopted the use of graphic health warnings, which require tobacco manufacturers to display pictures on cigarette packs showing the harmful effects of smoking. Just this month, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic adopted a new law for graphic health warnings covering 75% of the front and back sides of the pack, while Vanuatu’s new law covers 90%.

Studies carried out after the implementation of pictorial package warnings consistently shows that pictorial warnings significantly increase people's awareness of the harms of tobacco use. Only 42 countries, representing 19% of the world's population, meet the best practice for pictorial warnings, which includes the warnings in the local language and cover an average of at least half of the front and back of cigarette packs. Most of these countries are low- or middle-income countries.

Tobacco use in the Western Pacific Region

Tobacco use is one of the biggest contributors to the epidemic of noncommunicable diseases in the Western Pacific Region. Of WHO's six regions, the Western Pacific Region has the most number of smokers at 450 million and nearly half of all children in the Region are exposed to second-hand smoke. Tobacco smoke contains more than 4000 chemicals, of which 70 are known carcinogens. Globally, second-hand smoke causes an estimated 600 000 deaths. Moreover, the tobacco epidemic also threatens to undermine other public health gains and hamper economic growth and development in the Region.

WHO response

The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) is one of the most widely embraced treaties in the history of the United Nations with 180 Parties. It is an important tobacco control tool and a milestone in the promotion of public health. It is an evidence-based treaty that reaffirms the right of people to the highest standard of health, provides legal dimensions for international health cooperation and sets high standards for compliance. The WHO Western Pacific Region continues to be the only Region where 100% of eligible parties have ratified the WHO FCTC.

In 2014, the sixty-fifth session of the WHO Regional Committee for the Western Pacific endorsed the Regional action plan for the tobacco free initiative in the Western Pacific (2015–2019). The action plan is a critical step towards cohesive and sustainable tobacco control systems. It will accelerate implementation of the WHO FCTC and focus on increased institutional capacity, effective policies and governance, and multisectoral actions and partnerships for tobacco control in Member States.

World No Tobacco Day 2016 awards

Each year, WHO recognizes individuals or organizations for their accomplishments in the area of tobacco control in each of the six WHO Regions. These recognitions come in the form of WHO Director-General Special Recognition Awards, World No Tobacco Day Awards and two WHO Director-General's Special Recognition Certificates.

This year, Australians Professor Michael Matthew Daube, Officer of the Order of Australia, and Professor Melanie Wakefield, are the recipients of the WHO Director-General's Special Recognition certificates. Professor Daube is visiting the Regional Office on 31 May 2016 to share recent research on the impacts of plain packaging in Australia and other developments around the world.

In the Western Pacific Region, winners of the World No Tobacco Day 2016 awards include:

  • Ministry of Health and Welfare, Republic of Korea
  • Mr Alexander de las Alas Padilla, President and Chief Executive Officer, Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), Department of Health, Philippines
  • Ministry of Health and Medical Services, Solomon Islands

For more information, please contact:

Mr Eloi Yao
Public Information Officer
Telephone: +632 528 9992
Email: yaoe@wpro.who.int

Mr Ruel E. Serrano
Public Information Office
Telephone: +632 528 9993
Email: serranor@wpro.who.int