Tobacco Free Initiative (TFI)

World No Tobacco Day 2009


4. Don't people become indifferent to the pictures over time, or just cover or hide the pictures?

  • Countries that have introduced picture-based warnings on tobacco packages have seen a rapid, dramatic increase in the awareness of tobacco health risks and the likelihood of quitting.
  • It's possible people may become indifferent to particular pictures over time. That's why it's so important to change the warnings from time to time.
  • Although tobacco users can cover or hide the pictures, studies show that few do and that such avoidance does not decrease the warnings' effectiveness in motivating behavioural change among smokers (such as quitting) and may actually increase it.
  • Tobacco companies meticulously study their target users and finesse their package designs to make them as tempting as possible. Tobacco-free campaigns should try to counter these schemes. Using a variety of warnings, and changing them regularly, makes the messages more relevant to a variety of audiences and helps prevent them from becoming stale.

5. Are picture-based warnings fair and legal for the tobacco industry?

  • Tobacco companies oppose picture-based warnings because – quite correctly – they see them as a threat to their business.
  • Consumers of tobacco products have a right to know about the dangerous health consequences of tobacco use. Requiring tobacco companies to place warnings on packages is fair, just and legal.
  • The tobacco industry has challenged the legality of picture-based warnings in court and failed. The industry lost its only serious court challenge against picture-based warnings before the Supreme Court of Canada in 2007.
  • The tobacco industry's arguments that it takes too long and costs too much to implement picture-based warnings have no factual basis. Most of the costs of these consumer warnings are paid by the company itself – not by governments – and the savings from reduced health-care costs are enormous. Picture-based warnings can also be implemented quickly: the tobacco industry has demonstrated that it is able to produce packages with these warnings in as little as six months.

6. What countries are using picture-based warnings?

  • More and more countries are requiring picture-based warnings on tobacco packaging. As of 31 May 2009, 23 jurisdictions with a combined population of nearly 700 million require large graphic health warnings on packaging. Several others – Djibouti, Latvia, Mauritius and Switzerland – have finalized legislation to implement pictorial warnings later in 2009 and in 2010.
  • More than 160 countries have ratified the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, making it one of the most widely embraced treaties in United Nations history. The treaty commits its Parties to requiring that tobacco products "carry health warnings describing the harmful effects of tobacco use". The Article 11 best-practice guidelines to the treaty stipulate that warnings should be large and clear, appear on both sides of tobacco packages and describe specific illnesses caused by tobacco.
  • Yet only 10% of people live in countries that require warnings with pictures on tobacco packages.

7. What is the World Health Organization doing to control the epidemic of tobacco and to help countries meet their commitments under the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control?

  • In 2008, WHO unveiled MPOWER – a technical assistance package of proven cost-effectiveness and ability to save lives.
  • By implementing the six tobacco control measures comprising MPOWER, even low-income countries can go far towards countering the epidemic and meeting their commitments under the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

8. A recent study suggests that smokers are more likely to remember low-key anti-smoking advertisements on television than attention-grabbing advertisements. Given that, why should governments use shocking photos on tobacco warnings?

  • One study isn't enough to negate the broad body of research that shows graphic or shocking images are more effective than low-key images at motivating people to quit.
  • Although participants in the study were said to have been more likely to remember low-key ads than attention-grabbing ads, the other important question is: What do people do with the information after they receive it? In other words, which type of ad is more effective at convincing people to stop using tobacco? So far, the preponderance of the evidence confirms that ads showing the physical harm and suffering caused by tobacco work best.
  • It is still not clear if the lessons from the study of televised messages would apply to static warnings on tobacco packages. Nevertheless, we must continue to refine the tools we use to communicate the risks of tobacco. Studies of how the brain responds to tobacco warnings can be used in balance with other research and experience to plan even more effective communication strategies.
  • Such health communications research is needed if we are to continue making progress against the epidemic of tobacco. The World Health Organization applauds all efforts to bring new evidence to light.
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