Add Pictorial Warnings to All Tobacco Packages: WHO

'World No Tobacco Day 2009' on May 31 is the occasion for a campaign to make packaging more alarming, to warn smokers and potential smokers more directly.

The World Health Organization is marking "World No Tobacco Day 2009" on May 31 with a call on governments around the world to require pictorial warnings on all tobacco packaging "to show the sickness and suffering caused by tobacco use," the organization says.

The campaign for this year is focused on cutting tobacco use by increasing public awareness of its dangers, according to WHO, which cites studies that indicate people believe tobacco is harmful but may not understand its specific health risks. "Despite this, health warnings on tobacco packages in most countries do not provide information to warn consumers of the risks," WHO says.

WHO says one survey took place this year China, with only 37 percent of smokers in the study knowing smoking causes coronary heart disease and only 17 percent knowing it causes strokes, while a 2003 survey in Syria found only a small fraction of university students knew cardiovascular disease is a hazard of cigarette or water pipe smoking.

"Health warnings on tobacco packages are a simple, cheap, and effective strategy that can vastly reduce tobacco use and save lives," said WHO Assistant Director-General Dr. Ala Alwan. "But they only work if they communicate the risk. Warnings that include images of the harm that tobacco causes are particularly effective at communicating risk and motivating behavioral changes, such as quitting or reducing tobacco consumption."

"In order to survive, the tobacco industry needs to divert attention from the deadly effects of its products," said Dr. Douglas Bettcher, director of WHO's Tobacco Free Initiative. "It uses multimillion-dollar promotional campaigns, including carefully crafted package designs, to ensnare new users and keep them from quitting. Health warnings on tobacco packages can be a powerful tool to illuminate the stark reality of tobacco use."

Visit this page to read the World No Tobacco Day 2009 brochure.

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