WHO: smoking shock tactics

South Africa is in "desperate" need of a new set of effective health warnings on tobacco packaging, the National Council Against Smoking (NCAS) said on Friday.

In a message ahead of Sunday's World No Tobacco Day, it said the current print-only health warnings on tobacco had grown stale. "They have remained unchanged for 12 years," NCAS director Yussuf Saloojee said. "It is a wonder anybody notices them. There is a desperate need for a new set of effective and convincing warnings."

Saloojee said government was expected to publish new regulations on picture-based warnings later this year. It should not delay doing this, as delay spelled death. "With 44,000 South Africans dying from diseases caused by tobacco use every year, the death toll is already too high," he said.

The warnings could include photographs of blackened lungs, rotten teeth, and foetuses in bottles, the product of tobacco-induced abortions. "It's not about scaring people. It's the reality of what tobacco does to people."

Saloojee said a smoker's decision to quit or continue smoking was heavily influenced by his or her understanding of the dangers. The most powerful way to educate smokers was to put pictures illustrating the risks on a cigarette packet or tobacco package.

WHO calls for more effective tobacco warnings
Cigarette packages should include images of sickness and suffering caused by tobacco, along with written warnings, according to the World Health Organisation.

The UN agency urged governments to make people more aware of the health consequences of smoking. It said most countries still do not warn consumers of the risks on packages of cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco.

"Health warnings on tobacco packages are a simple, cheap and effective strategy that can vastly reduce tobacco use and save lives," said Dr Ala Alwan, a senior WHO official. "Warnings that include images of the harm that tobacco causes are particularly effective at communicating risk and motivating behavioural changes, such as quitting or reducing tobacco consumption."

Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death, killing more than 5 million people worldwide each year. WHO says it is the only legal consumer product that kills when used exactly as intended by the manufacturer.

Too few countries using picture warnings
Warning pictures on cigarette and other tobacco packs have helped smokers kick the habit and prevented others from becoming addicted, WHO said. It cited studies of such campaigns in Brazil, Canada, Singapore and Thailand, and said they revealed "remarkably consistent findings."

But only a tenth of the world's population lives in countries requiring warning pictures, WHO said. It said governments needed to address that shortcoming as ignorance still prevails on the dangers of smoking.

For example, a study in China showed that barely a third of smokers knew they were at higher risk of heart disease and only 17 percent knew that smoking causes strokes, the agency said. In Syria, just a fraction of university students knew that cardiovascular disease was a hazard of cigarette or water pipe smoking.

WHO has taken an increasingly strong stance against tobacco in recent years. It sponsored a 2003 treaty to control tobacco use and has urged a world ban on smoking in indoor workplaces and public buildings. It also has said it will not hire any prospective employees who smoke or use other tobacco products. –(Bradley S Klapper, Sapa, May 2009).

Read more:
Tobacco's battle for Africa

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