Global Tobacco Control Updates
India and the United Kingdom have become the latest countries to require large picture warnings on all packs of cigarettes and other tobacco products, demonstrating global support for this important measure to reduce tobacco use. At least 14 countries now require such pictorial warnings.
India this month announced that it will require pictorial warnings covering at least half of the package beginning December 1. Pressure from the tobacco industry twice delayed a law requiring such warnings, but a court earlier this year ordered the government to implement them and Parliament subsequently passed an amendment to the law to overcome objections of the tobacco industry.
India’s four initial pictorial warnings will include pictures of an ailing baby as a reminder of the harmful effects of secondhand smoke and of a diseased mouth to show the risk of oral cancer.
The UK government has announced that it will require pictorial warnings beginning October 1, 2008. Tobacco products will have to display one of 15 picture warnings.
Scientific studies have found that prominent health warnings lead to greater awareness of the health risks of tobacco use and increased desire to quit. A study published in the March 2007 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine compared widely varying health warnings in four countries and found that large, pictorial warnings, such as those in Canada, are more effective than small text warnings, such as those in the United States.
The World Health Organization international tobacco control treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, requires ratifying nations to implement warnings that cover at least 30 percent of the principal display areas of cigarette packs and recommends that warnings cover at least 50 percent of the display areas and use pictures or pictograms. To date, 151 countries have ratified the treaty.
Dr. Prakash C. Gupta, director of research at the Healis-Sekhsaria Institute for Public Health in Mumbai, India, is leading efforts to urge the Indian government to strongly enforce the law starting Dec. 1 and to resist industry demands for further delays and weaker measures.
“The tobacco industry has had plenty of time to get ready for the new requirements. There is no justification for more excuses when human lives are at stake,” Dr. Gupta said.
“We applaud India and the United Kingdom for taking this important action to protect the health of their citizens and encourage other countries to follow their lead,” said Damon Moglen, Vice President for International Programs at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “Scientific evidence indicates that picture warnings increase public awareness of the many ways tobacco use harms the human body and encourage smokers to quit. These warnings also help counter tobacco marketing that falsely portrays tobacco use as glamorous and appealing.”
In the United States, Congress is currently considering legislation to grant the U.S. Food and Drug Administration the authority to regulate tobacco products and marketing. One provision of this legislation would require larger, more effective health warnings than the small warnings currently printed on the side of cigarette packs in the U.S. The Senate version of the legislation would require graphic warnings that cover half the front and back of cigarette packs.
Tobacco use will kill five million people worldwide this year, and that number is projected to double by 2020, with 70 percent of these deaths in developing countries. Unless current trends are reversed, tobacco is projected to claim one billion lives this century. However, public health experts have concluded that 300 million deaths from tobacco can be prevented in the next 50 years by cutting adult cigarette consumption in half worldwide.