The Framework Convention Alliance for Tobacco Control

Australia ranks first with labelling

canadian society reportMore than 60 countries now require graphic cigarette package warnings with Australia ranking the highest in terms of progress on labelling, an international report by the Canadian Cancer Society found.

The report ranks 198 countries and territories on the size of their health warnings on cigarette packages, and was released today at the fifth session of the Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) being held in Seoul, South Korea from November 12 to 17.

Senior Policy Analyst for the Canadian Cancer Society Rob Cunningham said there was a huge trend worldwide for countries to adopt graphic pictures of the health effects of smoking as part of warnings on cigarette packages.

“Sixty-three countries are now requiring picture warnings, which is up from 34 in 2010,” Rob said.

“Picture warnings are especially valuable for low and middle income countries where there are higher rates of illiteracy, and where governments may have few resources.”

In terms of reach, now more than 40% of the world’s population is covered by the 63 countries and territories that have finalised picture warning requirements. In 2001, Canada was the first country to require picture warnings. 

Package warnings are recognised as a highly cost-effective means to increase awareness of the health effects of tobacco, and to reduce its use. A picture says a thousand words and can convey a message with far more impact than text alone can, and the effectiveness of warnings increases with size.

International FCTC guidelines recommend warnings should be:

  • as large as is achievable
  • include a rotating series of graphic pictures
  • on both the front and back of packages.

Examples of pictures that appear on packages include a diseased lung or mouth, a patient in a hospital bed and a child exposed to secondhand smoke.

“More than 60 countries and territories have demonstrated that implementing picture warnings is achievable, which shows that all countries can do so. The momentum on this key tobacco control measure has become unstoppable,” said Rob.

“The international progress in implementing picture warnings is all the more significant given tobacco industry opposition. If larger picture warnings did not work to reduce smoking, then the tobacco industry would not be opposed.” 

Other highlights from the report include the following:

  • Australia, ranked first in the report, now has the largest warnings in the world at 82.5% of the package front and back (75% front, 90% back) surpassing Uruguay, the previous holder of this title. Australia has also implemented plain packaging to prohibit tobacco company colours, logos, and design elements on the brand part of the package, and to standardize the shape and format of the package.
  • 47 countries and territories have warnings covering at least 50% of the package front and back, up from 32 in 2010 and 24 in 2008.
  • 18 countries have warnings covering more than 50% of the package front and back.

Top countries in terms of warning size as an average of the front and back

  1. 82.5% Australia (75% of front, 90% of back)
  2. 80% Uruguay (80%, 80%)
  3. 80% Sri Lanka (80%, 80%)
  4. 75% Canada (75%, 75%)
  5. 75% Brunei (75%, 75%)
  6. 65% Mauritius (60%, 70%)
  7. 65% Mexico (30%, 100%)
  8. 60% Ecuador (60%, 60%)
  9. 60% New Zealand (30%, 90%)
  10. 60% Cook Islands (30%, 90%)

The goal of the FCTC is to control the global tobacco epidemic. Countries that ratify the FCTC agree to put in place health policy controls to reduce tobacco use. For example, health warnings on tobacco products, banning tobacco advertising and ensuring indoor workplaces and public places are smoke-free are all FCTC obligations.

For package health warnings, the FCTC has an obligation for parties to require health warnings that “should be 50% or more of the principal display areas but shall be no less than 30%” and may be in the form of, or include, picture warnings. There are now 176 countries that are parties to the FCTC.

The report, first released in 2008, is updated by the Society and published every two years.

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