In support of World No Tobacco Day, 31 May, The Union calls on governments around the world to prepare to introduce plain packaging – eliminating one of the last marketing platforms available to the tobacco industry.
World No Tobacco Day this year builds on current international momentum. Pioneered by Australia in 2012, the United Kingdom, France and Ireland have now introduced plain packs, with Uruguay, Senegal, South Africa and New Zealand slated to soon follow suit.
These laws are a powerful tool for reducing tobacco use, both encouraging users to quit, and discouraging non-users from taking up the habit. Tobacco use currently claims more than six million lives prematurely each year. Half of all users die from tobacco-related disease.
Packaging is expertly used by the tobacco industry to entice new users and build brand loyalty.
Tobacco use is also the greatest preventable risk factor for non-communicable diseases (NCDs). With NCDs now accounting for 63 percent of premature deaths globally each year we must take all necessary action to prevent this tragic loss of life.
We call on countries with robust national tobacco control programmes to introduce plain packaging laws that instead claim this powerful marketing platform for conveying life-saving public health messages.
Plain packs strip away all gloss, decoration and misleading information. They are required to conform to a standard size and display large graphic and text warnings about the health harms of tobacco use on a drab coloured background. All branding is banned; variants are shown only in prescribed text. The large graphic warnings are particularly important for ensuring messages about the health harms of tobacco use reach populations with low literacy rates. And standard sizing removes ten-packs of cigarettes, favoured by young people, from the market.
Advertising, promotion and sponsorship bans, point-of-sale display bans and restrictions on tobacco sales near schools have effectively reduced tobacco industry opportunities to recruit new users. We encourage countries that do not yet have such laws in place to prepare for plain packaging by first introducing these robust and complementary measures.
Because they are so effective, the tobacco industry has fought hard against plain packaging laws. So far, court battles have been won in favour of public health in Australia, the United Kingdom, and European Court of Justice which ruled in favour of the EU Tobacco Products Directive supporting member states to pursue plain packaging. These success stories should encourage other governments to follow suit and move to obliterate this last space for promotion of these deadly products.
José Luis Castro