Tobacco Free Initiative (TFI)

World No Tobacco Day, 31 May 2009

Why use picture warnings?

Tobacco is the leading preventable cause of death. More than five million people die from the effects of tobacco every year — more than from HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. It is the only legal consumer product that kills when used exactly as the manufacturer intends. Up to half of all smokers will die from a tobacco-related disease. Second-hand smoke harms everyone who is exposed to it.

Tobacco companies spend tens of millions of dollars every year turning new users into addicts and keeping current users from quitting. Through advertising and promotional campaigns, including the use of carefully crafted package designs, the tobacco industry continues to divert attention from the deadly effects of its products.

More and more countries are fighting back by requiring that tobacco packages graphically show the dangers of tobacco, as called for in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. They use the MPOWER technical assistance package developed by WHO to help meet their commitments under this international treaty.

Effective health warnings, especially those that include pictures, have been proven to motivate users to quit and to reduce the appeal of tobacco for those who are not yet addicted. Despite this fact, 9 out of 10 people live in countries that do not require warnings with pictures on tobacco packages.

Nicotine is a highly addictive substance. Warning people about its true risks can go a long way towards reducing tobacco addiction. Requiring warnings on tobacco packages is a simple, cheap and effective strategy that can vastly reduce tobacco use and save lives.

Now is the time to act.