Study: Uruguay’s Strong Policies Produced Unprecedented Smoking Declines

September 18, 2012

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Uruguay has some of the world’s strongest laws to fight tobacco use, and a new study published in The Lancet medical journal shows the nation’s efforts have dramatically reduced smoking.

Since 2005, Uruguay has implemented a series of strong measures to reduce tobacco use.  These include a comprehensive law requiring smoke-free workplaces and public places, a ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorships (except at the point of sale), and several tobacco tax increases.

In 2010, Uruguay implemented the world’s largest graphic warning labels, which cover 80 percent of the front and back of cigarette packs. To prevent tobacco companies from using packaging and labeling to falsely market some cigarettes as less harmful, Uruguay also banned deceptive cigarette labels such as “light” and “low-tar” and became the first country to limit each cigarette brand to one pack design.

To assess the impact of these measures, the Lancet study compared trends in tobacco use in Uruguay to those in neighboring Argentina, which at the time had not implemented such extensive tobacco control measures.  It found far greater progress in Uruguay:

  • From 2005 to 2011, per-person consumption of cigarettes decreased by 4.3 percent per year in Uruguay, while increasing by 0.6 percent per year in Argentina.
  • From 2005 to 2011, the adult smoking rate in Uruguay fell by 3.3 percent a year, compared to a 1.7 percent annual decrease in Argentina.
  • From 2003 to 2009, rates of tobacco use among Uruguayan students aged 13, 15 and 17 decreased by 8 percent a year, compared to a decrease of 2.5 percent annually among Argentinean students from 2001 to 2009.

The study’s conclusion: “Uruguay’s comprehensive tobacco-control campaign has been associated with a substantial, unprecedented decrease in tobacco use.  Decreases in tobacco use in other low-income and middle-income countries of the magnitude seen in Uruguay would have a substantial effect on the future global burden of tobacco-related diseases.”

Given Uruguay’s success, it isn’t surprising that Philip Morris International (PMI) has filed a legal challenge to the country’s warning labels and packaging restrictions.  The tobacco giant is seeking to bully Uruguay into backing down and discourage other countries from following its lead.  It’s critical that other countries support Uruguay’s right to protect the health of its citizens and join in enacting strong measures to reduce tobacco use.

Uruguay is pointing the way to combating a tobacco epidemic that will otherwise kill one billion people worldwide this century.