Tobacco Free Initiative (TFI)

World No Tobacco Day 2009

Questions and Answers

1. Why do we need picture-based warnings on all tobacco packages?

  • Tobacco kills more than five million people each year. It is the leading preventable cause of death – and 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. Yet studies reveal that too few people understand the real health risks of tobacco.
  • The tobacco industry spends millions of dollars marketing its products, designing attractive packages to ensnare new users and keep them using tobacco. Its work is made easier because tobacco packages in most countries don't warn consumers about tobacco's deadly effects.
  • Health warnings that combine words and pictures are one of the most cost-effective ways to increase public awareness of the serious health risks of tobacco use and to reduce tobacco consumption.

2. But why use pictures? Aren't text-based warnings effective?

  • Warnings that graphically show the terrible effects of using tobacco are more visible on packages than text-only warnings. They compete more successfully with the rest of the package design – standing out and sending a clear message.
  • Not everyone can read. Picture-based warnings are critical for communicating health risks to the large number of people who are illiterate and for reducing health inequality.
  • Picture-based warnings help counter the tobacco industry's use of branding and imagery. By detracting from the overall attractiveness of tobacco packaging, the warnings deter new users, who are often the most vulnerable to the companies' manipulation.

3. Do picture-based warnings work?

  • Carefully designed warnings, especially those that include pictures, have been proven to motivate users to quit and to reduce the appeal of tobacco to those who are not yet addicted.
  • Studies carried out in countries that require picture-based warnings on tobacco packages reveal remarkably consistent findings on their positive effect. For example:
    • In Canada, 58% of smokers said the warnings made them think more about the health effects of smoking.
    • In Brazil, 67% of smokers said the warnings made them want to quit, and 54% said they made them change their opinion about the health consequences of smoking.
    • In Singapore, 28% of smokers said the warnings made them smoke fewer cigarettes, and one out of six said they avoided smoking in front of children as a result of the warnings.
    • In Thailand, 44% of smokers said the warnings made them “a lot” more likely to quit over the next month, and 53% said they made them think “a lot” about the health risks.
  • Evidence shows that picture-based warnings that arouse emotions are the most effective, particularly when combined with information to help or empower smokers to quit smoking, such as the telephone number of a tobacco helpline (a "quitline").
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