18 Aug 2008
Warning labels on tobacco packs are a cost-effective method of advertising about the dangers of tobacco use, providing direct health messages to tobacco users as well as to non-users who see the packs. This intervention can be implemented at virtually no cost to the government.
[…] However the tobacco industry almost always resists these efforts, particularly if large, graphic pictorial warnings are included. They do so because these efforts are known to be effective.
– World Health Organization (WHO)
Effective warnings on tobacco products increase public awareness about the harmful health effects of tobacco use and exposure to tobacco smoke, and also reduce tobacco use.
The most effective package warnings contain a rotating series of large, picture-based messages about the health effects of tobacco use, together with cessation information and other relevant messages. Such warnings are located at the top of the front and back of each package (with the front more important), and are periodically updated to keep messaging fresh.
Pictures a must
Warnings that include pictures are far more effective than text-only warnings, and larger warnings are more effective than smaller warnings. The use of pictures is especially beneficial for low-literacy populations and for people (including immigrants, speakers of a minority language, temporary workers and visitors) who speak a language other than a country’s official language.
Plain packaging takes effective packaging one step further by removing all logos, colours, brand images or promotional information from packaging, other than brand names and product names displayed in a standard colour and font style.
Australia was the first country to implement plain packaging in 2012 with France, Ireland and the UK following in 2016 and others committing to do so. See the map below:
FCA support for packaging and labelling
The theme of World No Tobacco Day 2016 was Get Ready for Plain Packaging. To mark the day, FCA highlighted how its members were at various stages on the route to plain packaging.
Parties to the global treaty, the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), agreed to adopt packaging and labelling guidelines at their third session (COP3) in 2008.
Packaging and labelling in the WHO FCTC
Regulations on packaging and labelling of tobacco products are highly cost-effective. Governments determine the regulations, and the tobacco industry pays the cost of implementation. A single national law affects every package of tobacco products sold in a country.
Under Article 11 of the FCTC, Parties must adopt effective measures to ensure that tobacco product packaging carries health warnings that should be at least 50 percent – and not less than 30 percent – of the package front and back. The warnings may include pictures, and packaging must not promote tobacco products by false, misleading or deceptive means. Parties have three years after joining the treaty to put these measures in place.
Effective regulations are needed to prevent the tobacco industry from communicating false, misleading or deceptive messages via packaging and labelling.
Globally, the tobacco industry resists countries’ efforts to implement graphic warnings and plain packs because it knows that these measures reduce tobacco sales.
- Research shows that large, graphic warning labels are effective.
- The number of countries requiring larger graphic warnings continues to grow.
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FCA works hard to ensure tobacco products are regulated around the world. However, we are a non-profit and rely on the generous support of individuals and organisations.
You can help support our work on tobacco product regulation by donating online.