WHO calls for more effective health warnings on tobacco

The World Health Organization (WHO) on 29 May called on governments to use graphic pictures on tobacco products to show the physical results of smoking.

The tobacco industry invests large sums of money on designing attractive packages that make a deadly product look safe and appealing, said the WHO.

They also spend millions of dollars on advertising and promotional campaigns to divert attention from the deadly effects of its products, and to lure new users and keep them from quitting.

The WHO said to counter that effect, packets should show shocking photos of lung tumours, blood clots in the brain and decaying gums.

Experience from around the world shows that pictorial warnings motivates users to quit and discourage people, particularly the young, from starting, the WHO contends.

Tobacco is the world's leading preventable cause of death and the only product that kills when used exactly as the manufacturer intends. 

Worldwide, more than five million people die from tobacco each year — more than from HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. 

In Vietnam, tobacco use is responsible for five deaths every hour. That is 40,000 deaths each year, four times the number of people that die on the country’s roads.

“Studies reveal that even among people who believe tobacco is harmful, few understand its many specific health risks”, said Dr. Jean-Marc Olivé, WHO Representative in Vietnam.

“Despite this, health warnings on tobacco packages in Vietnam do not provide enough information to warn consumers of the risks,” Dr. Olivé said.

Pictorial health warnings on tobacco packages are a simple, cheap and effective strategy that can vastly reduce tobacco use and save lives.

In Vietnam studies show that application of large pictorial health warnings could help save about 500 lives a year by 2023 and 750 lives a year by 2033.

The WHO insists it is time for all countries to act to save lives.

Vietnam is one of 164 countries that have ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, making it one of the most widely embraced treaties in UN history. 

The treaty commits its Parties to requiring that tobacco products "carry health warnings describing the harmful effects of tobacco use". Its best practice guidelines stipulate that warnings should be large and clear, appear on both sides of tobacco packages and include pictures. 

WHO provides technical assistance to countries to establish and strengthen their national tobacco control programs. 

By Hai Son

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