Graphic photos on tobacco packs save lives: WHO report

April 8, 2014

Large, graphic health warnings on tobacco packets in China would increase awareness about the harms of smoking, help to cut smoking rates, and in doing so save lives according to global studies. These are the key findings from a new report, Tobacco health warnings in China – Evidence of effectiveness and implications for action, from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Project (ITC Project), released today.

"This new report presents a very compelling case for the introduction of large, pictorial – or 'graphic' – health warnings on all tobacco packages in China," Dr Bernhard Schwartländer, WHO Representative in China, said.

"The average smoker in China smokes 15-17 cigarettes per day. This means the average smoker is exposed to a health warning more than 6200 times in one year, simply through the act of getting each cigarette from the pack. Making the pack warnings more effective is therefore an incredibly effective way of warning smokers about the health hazards of smoking and encouraging them to quit. And it is very cost-effective for governments too – requiring virtually no financial resources to implement or enforce," explained Dr Schwartländer.

The report highlights important international evidence from the ITC Project on the implementation of large, pictorial warnings in other countries and areas.

"Evidence from around the world shows that large, pictorial warnings significantly increase effectiveness of pack by increasing knowledge, awareness and perceptions of the risk of cigarettes. This leads to greater motivation among smokers to quit, and lowered motivation among non-smokers to start up," said Professor Geoffrey Fong, ITC Project Principal Investigator and co-author of the new report.

"Our research in China shows that the current text-only Chinese health warnings are very ineffective. Revising the current in line with the WHO FCTC and its Guidelines would increase awareness about smoking-related harms in China, and encourage Chinese smokers to quit. With its more than 300 million smokers, there is an urgent need for China to introduce policies that the evidence shows work," Professor Fong added.

The report also highlights how introduction of large, pictorial warning labels on tobacco packets and full implementation of the WHO FCTC would help reduce the growing burden of non-communicable disease in China.

"Tobacco-related noncommunicable diseases pose a serious threat to the health and life of the Chinese people, also creating a heavy burden on socioeconomic development," said Dr Liang Xiaofeng, Deputy Director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Increasing awareness about the health harms of smoking is particularly important in China, where awareness is currently poor, and there is a tradition of people presenting cigarettes to one another and giving cigarettes as gifts. Educating people about the harm of tobacco through graphic warnings on cigarette packages would be one of the most direct and effective ways to reduce tobacco use," Dr Liang added.

Stronger warning labels on tobacco packages are also likely to be popular with the public, according to Dr Wang Ke'an, Director of the ThinkTank Research Center for Health Development.

"ThinkTank has been conducting exhibitions on pictorial warning labels around China since September 2011. Following the exhibitions, 85% of people surveyed were supportive of pictorial warning labels on cigarette packages," said Dr Wang.

"China should urgently implement pictorial warnings on at least 50% of the top of the front and back of the pack to honour its commitment to the WHO FCTC, to achieve the goals of the China National Tobacco Control Plan, and to protect public health in our country. Graphic pack warnings work to educate everyone – young, old, children, and importantly, people in disadvantaged areas who may be illiterate," Dr Wang added.

The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) calls for warning labels covering 50% or more of the tobacco pack. The Guidelines for implementation of the relevant article of the WHO FCTC which have been adopted by Parties to the WHO FCTC recommend use of pictorial warning labels. China ratified the WHO FCTC in 2005, and the treaty came into legal force in China in 2006.

Currently, 28.1% of China's over 1 billion adults are smokers. This includes 52.9% of men and 2.4% of women. It is estimated that tobacco use kills more than 1 million people every year in China, which will increase to 3 million each year by 2050 if current smoking rates are not reduced.

"The importance of strengthening tobacco pack warning labels in China also needs to be seen in the context of the Government's plans to introduce a national law making public places smoke-free: by improving public awareness of tobacco harms, stronger tobacco pack warnings would help to reinforce this policy," said the WHO's Dr Schwartländer.

"It is well and truly time for China to kick its habit. Indeed, the country's future economic and social prosperity depends on it. The evidence and recommendations presented in this report, if implemented, will help China to do just that," Dr Schwartländer concluded.

Explore further: Study shows majority of children unaware of cigarette warning labels

Related Stories

Study shows majority of children unaware of cigarette warning labels

February 27, 2014
An international study of children's perceptions of cigarette package warning labels found that the majority of children are unaware that they exist. Children in countries where larger warning labels are used, and which include ...

Graphic warning labels on cigarette packs could lead to 8.6 million fewer smokers in US‏‏‏

November 25, 2013
A research paper published in the scientific journal Tobacco Control, "Cigarette graphic warning labels and smoking prevalence in Canada: a critical examination and reformulation of the FDA regulatory impact analysis", shows ...

New anti-smoking policies in China could save nearly 13 million lives in next 40 years

February 18, 2014
Almost 13 million lives could be saved by 2050 in China if the country implements comprehensive tobacco control recommendations set forth by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Study: Graphic warnings on cigarettes effective across demographic groups

January 14, 2013
Quitting smoking is a common New Year's resolution for Americans each year, but research has repeatedly shown it is not an easy task. Some groups, such as racial/ethnic minorities, have an even harder time quitting. New research ...

Ischemic stroke deaths due to smoking in China, India and Russia more than for all world's other countries combined

April 3, 2014
New research published in Global Heart shows that deaths from ischaemic stroke (IS) due to tobacco use in China, India, and Russia together are higher than the total for all the world's other countries combined. The research ...

Recommended for you

Why sugary drinks and protein-rich meals don't go well together

July 20, 2017
Having a sugar-sweetened drink with a high-protein meal may negatively affect energy balance, alter food preferences and cause the body to store more fat, according to a study published in the open access journal BMC Nutrition.

Opioids and obesity, not 'despair deaths,' raising mortality rates for white Americans

July 20, 2017
Drug-related deaths among middle-aged white men increased more than 25-fold between 1980 and 2014, with the bulk of that spike occurring since the mid-1990s when addictive prescription opioids became broadly available, according ...

Aging Americans enjoy longer life, better health when avoiding three risky behaviors

July 20, 2017
We've heard it before from our doctors and other health experts: Keep your weight down, don't smoke and cut back on the alcohol if you want to live longer.

Parents have critical role in preventing teen drinking

July 20, 2017
Fewer teenagers are drinking alcohol but more needs to be done to curb the drinking habits of Australian school students, based on the findings of the latest study by Adelaide researchers.

Fresh fish oil lowers diabetes risk in rat offspring

July 19, 2017
Fresh fish oil given to overweight pregnant rats prevented their offspring from developing a major diabetes risk factor, Auckland researchers have found.

High-dose vitamin D doesn't appear to reduce the winter sniffles for children

July 18, 2017
Giving children high doses of vitamin D doesn't appear to reduce the winter sniffles, a new study has found.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.