WHO urges ban on attractive designs used by cigarette manufacturers as an effective marketing tool to entice smokers
The World Health Organization (WHO) continues to 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.
According to Dr. Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director of the Western Pacific during the World No Tobacco Day celebration, “plain packaging is a good public health measure because it prevents tobacco companies from using packaging as an effective marketing tool.”
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 labeling 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 percent of the front and back sides of the pack, while Vanuatu’s new law covers 90 percent.
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 percent 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.
Filipino youth supports ‘plain packaging’
In the Philippines, over a hundred student and youth-led organizations all over the Philippines joined the World No Tobacco Day 2016 celebration, expressing hopes for the passage and implementation of crucial tobacco control and public health laws in the country.
“The country successfully passed the Sin Tax and the Graphic Health Warning laws in the last four years. These laws aim to reduce the attractiveness of smoking, particularly to the vulnerable such as the youth, through increasing cigarette prices and promoting informed decisions with regard to smoking, respectively”, said Leo Rivera, convener of the National Youth for Sin Tax Movement (NYFSTM) from UP Economics Towards Consciousness (UP ETC).
This year, the coalition also supports “plain packaging” as another step forward in tobacco control. Plain packaging is an effective demand reduction policy which ‘restricts the use of tobacco packaging as a form of tobacco advertising and promotion, limits misleading packaging and labelling, and increases the effectiveness of health warnings’ (WHO, 2016).
Tobacco use in the WesPac Region
Tobacco use is one of the biggest contributors to the epidemic of non-communicable diseases in the Western Pacific Region. 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.
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 4,000 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.
Tobacco use in Ph
Citing the recent 2015 National Nutrition Survey (NNS), Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Alliance Philippines (FCAP) Executive Director Dr. Maricar Limpin said the number of smokers among the youth, aged 20 years and below posted significant drop by 40 percent, from 9.1 percent in 2008 to 5.5 percent in 2015.
Dr. Limpin said the smoking prevalence among Filipino adults drastically decreased from 31 percent in 2008 to 23.3 percent in 2015.
“This will signify 4 million less Filipino smokers and 700,000 deaths averted because they were discouraged from getting started with the fatal smoking addiction,” Dr. Limpin added.
Like the sin tax law that increased the prices of cigarettes and helped the decline in tobacco use among the young and the poor, FCAP cited the law requiring graphic health warning in cigarette packs as another milestone anti-tobacco policy passed in the Aquino administration.
“The government’s health programs continue to reap fruits from increase in revenues from cigarettes and alcohol after the passage of Republic Act 10351 or the Sin Tax Reform Law in 2012. We hope that the current administration will work on enhancing the law’s implementation and maximize the favorable results of the tax reforms under the law,” said Jo-ann Diosana, Senior Economist of the Action for Economic Reforms (AER).
Diosana said additional revenues for the government brought unprecedented increase in the national budget for health from only PhP 57 billion in 2012 to PhP 123 billion in 2016.
“The sin tax law did not only bring revenues that funded public services, it was also proven to have curbed tobacco consumption. The benefits of the law demolished the arguments of the tobacco industry against the increase in cigarette excise tax, thus, the reforms should continue and replicated in the future,” Diosana added.
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 visited the Regional Office last May 31, 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; Mrs. Erdenechimeg Luvsan, Member of Parliament of Mongolia, Head of Women’s Caucus of the Parliament, Mongolia; Atty. Alexander de las Alas Padilla, President and Chief Executive Officer, Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), Department of Health, Philippines, and Ministry of Health and Medical Services, Solomon Islands.
This year’s World No Tobacco Day celebration theme is to push for plain packaging in cigarette packs, prohibiting the use of logos, colors, brand images or promotional information.