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PIA Press Release
2009/10/02

WHO eyes 'graphic warning' as effective deterrent to smoking

by Noel B. Najarro

Butuan City (2 October) -- Dr. Florante E. Trinidad, Technical Officer, Tobacco Free Initiative of the World Health Organization (WHO) sees picture-based warnings as effective deterrent against tobacco smoking as compared to text warnings only.

Speaking on the second day of the 3rd Quarter 2009 Media Forum on Tobaco Control Program held recently at the Davao Regency Resort and Hotel Davao City, Dr. Trinidad pointed out during his presentation that picture-based health warnings would increase its effectiveness, make the message more noticeable and salient and help counter the branding and imagery of the package. According to him, it also engages the audience on an emotional level and communicates information to illiterate or less literate populations.

He added that health warnings on tobacco packages that combine text and pictures are among the cost-effective ways to increase public awareness of the serious health risks of tobacco use and to reduce tobacco consumption.

He also pointed out that results of studies in other countries using picture-based warnings may tend to show that it worked. In Canada, 58 % said that it made them think more about health effects of smoking. In Brazil, about 67 % said it made them want to quit. Also from the same country, 54 % said that it made them change their opinion about health consequences of smoking. In Singapore, 28 % said that it made them smoke fewer cigarettes and one out of six avoid smoking in front of children as a result of the warnings. In Thailand, 44 % said that it had made them a lot more likely to quit over the next month and still from the same country, 53 % said that it made them think a lot about the health risks.

Dr. Trinidad said that though tobacco is the leading preventable cause of death, yet it is killing 5.4 million people per year from lung cancer, heart disease and other diseases according to WHO Report on the Global Epidemic of 2008. Smoking in the Philippines, he said are among the highest in the world today. The country ranked 9th highest in the world for adult male smokers, based on the World Lung and the American Cancer Society findings. Thirty-five percent of adults are current smokers. He also pointed out that tobacco companies are targeting the women, the youth and the poor sectors. In 2008, the country ranked 16th in the world for female adult smokers.

Among the world's youths, according to Trinidad, Philippines counts among the heaviest tobacco users with Filipino girls occupying 2nd place and Filipino boys occupied the 4rth slot in 2003. One in every five students, aged 13-15 currently smoke.

It is also equally alarming, as Trinidad pointed out, that hundreds of thousands of people who have never smoked die each year from illness related to inhalation of other people's tobacco smoke. Half of all children worldwide are exposed to tobacco smoke particularly at home. More than 50 studies on environmental smoke and lung cancer risk in people who have never smoked, especially spouses of smokers, have been conducted during the last 25 years. Most of these studies showed an increased risk, especially for persons with higher exposures.

The Philippines, Trinidad said, was a signatory on June 6, 2005 of WHO's Framework Convention On Tobaco Control (FCTC), an evidence-based treaty, in existence to combat the dangers posed by tobacco usage. It aims to reaffirm the people's right to the highest standard of health through effective information dissemination against smoking. It also advocates for the restriction of tobacco advertising, sponsorships and promotions among ratifying countries, (which is 147 among the 193 WHO Member States), protection of the public via information and the setting up of a highly effective method of labeling and packaging.

Proposed measures such as Senate Bill No. 2377 and House Bill 3364 are currently filed in both Houses of Congress hopefully to implement at least three things: fortify the battle against the devastating effects of tobacco use and second-hand smoke with better health warnings, ban misleading descriptors and eliminate deceptive labeling on cigarette packs which undermine public health objectives.

Both measures, Trinidad said, also call for the removal of descriptors that are false or are likely to create an erroneous impression about cigarette characteristics and hazards.

Terms like "low tar", "light", "ultra light" or "mild" create an impression that products bearing such words are less harmful. Smokers of such brands of cigarettes have the same chance of getting cancer, a heart disease or a gangrene as of those who are using the regular variety, he said. (PNN/PIA-Caraga) [top]

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