Uruguay’s President Continues Leadership in Global Fight against Tobacco with Plain Packaging Announcement

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
August 07, 2018

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids congratulates President Tabaré Vázquez of Uruguay on his presidential decree of August 6 mandating that tobacco products be sold in plain packaging. The decree, which overcomes parliamentary inaction, maintains health warnings covering 80 percent of tobacco packages, mandates a standardized design and font and the use of brown color, and prohibits any brand, logo or promotional elements on the inside and outside of cigarette packs.

Uruguay is the first country in Latin America to implement plain packaging. Standardized or "plain" packaging mandates that tobacco products be sold in plain packaging, without logos and other colorful branding elements that increase the appeal of these deadly and addictive products, particularly to youth. In Australia, following the implementation of plain packaging and other tobacco control measures, smoking rates dropped at the fastest pace in more than two decades.

The determination of the Government of Uruguay should spur other countries in the region like Chile, Panama, Ecuador, and Brazil, which are considering cigarette packaging bills, to approve and implement plain packaging. Other countries including Australia, the U.K., France, Ireland, New Zealand and Norway have already implemented plain packaging and governments in many other countries are formally considering the measure or have given strong political commitments.

President Vazquez’s decree adds to recent global momentum for plain tobacco packaging, a proven public health measure increasingly implemented by countries to help address the overwhelming burden of tobacco-related death and disease. The president’s action also reaffirms the leadership of Uruguay and President Vázquez in standing up to international tobacco companies attempting to bully countries moving to protect their citizens from the ravages of tobacco use.

In 2010, Uruguay became a global symbol of efforts to reduce tobacco use and stand up to Big Tobacco when Philip Morris International challenged the nation's tobacco packaging laws, first in the country’s courts and then in a World Bank arbitration tribunal. The country not only stood its ground in the face of a daunting international legal challenge but demonstrated to countries around the world that nations can and should stand up to legal threats from tobacco companies. The case was decided in Uruguay’s favor in July 2016 and was a resounding victory for Uruguay and countries around the world acting to protect their citizens from tobacco.

Tobacco companies in Uruguay will be given six months to comply with the decree, although they are expected to challenge the measure in court. However, in recent years courts in the European Union, U.K., France, Australia and more recently the World Trade Organization have ruled against the tobacco industry, upholding the sovereign right of countries to protect the health of their citizens.

Plain packaging will provide a boost to the tremendous success Uruguay has realized in reducing the devastating burden of tobacco use. With the introduction of proven public health policies like 100 percent smoke-free laws, graphic health warnings, higher tobacco taxes and advertising bans, Uruguay has already reduced tobacco use among youth by 65 percent and 28 percent among adults. This progress shows that countries of any size can significantly reduce tobacco use with the proven policies mandated by the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and visionary leadership from committed leaders like President Vázquez.

Unless more countries join Uruguay in strongly implementing proven policies to reduce tobacco use, tobacco will kill one billion people this century.