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New Report: Graphic Cigarette Warnings Spread Around World

October 14, 2014

The number of countries requiring graphic health warnings on cigarette packs is growing rapidly, according to a report issued today by the Canadian Cancer Society.

The report finds that 77 countries and territories have finalized picture warnings — up from 55 countries that had implemented by the end of 2012 and just one country — Canada — in 2001.

The report ranks 198 countries and territories on the size of their health warnings on cigarette packs. Key findings include:

  • Thailand has the world’s largest warnings covering 85 percent of the back and front of packs, followed by Australia, which was the first nation to require that cigarettes be sold in plain packaging, without brand colors and logos.
  • Almost half the world’s population is covered by the 77 countries and territories that have finalized picture warning requirements.
  • 60 countries and territories have required warnings that cover at least 50 percent of the pack front and back (on average), up from 47 in 2012, 32 in 2010 and 24 in 2008.

The United States tied for last with 55 other countries that do not require any graphic health warnings. The current U.S. warnings, which are text-only and printed on the side of cigarette packs, are stale and unnoticed. They haven't been updated in 30 years. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is calling on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to quickly develop and implement large, graphic warnings, as required by U.S. law.

Studies around the world show that large, graphic warnings are most effective at informing consumers about the health risks of smoking. Such warnings can motivate smokers to quit and discourage nonsmokers from starting.

As Canadian Cancer Society says in their press release, 'A picture says a thousand words. Pictures can convey a message with far more impact than can a text-only message… the effectiveness of warnings increases with size.'

Tobacco companies know that graphic warnings are effective, which is why they have vigorously opposed countries’ efforts to require them and place other restrictions on tobacco packaging and labeling. Uruguay is currently fighting a legal challenge from Philip Morris International over the country’s landmark policies that mandate large, graphic warnings and prohibit deceptive cigarette labels such as 'light' and 'low-tar.' Uruguay and other countries that have ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control are obligated to implement large, clear, and rotating health warnings on all tobacco products.

'The international momentum in implementing picture warnings is all the more significant given tobacco industry opposition,' says the Canadian Cancer Society’s Rob Cunningham. 'If picture warnings did not work to reduce smoking, then the tobacco industry would not be opposed.'

Governments and health advocates should do all they can to make sure the global momentum for effective tobacco health warnings continues.

Learn more about health warnings and see a slideshow of graphic warnings from around the world.

(Images taken from the report)