NGOs: Use pictorial warnings

  • Nation
  • Monday, 10 Feb 2003


PETALING JAYA: More than 180 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from more than 70 countries want to see the use of pictures or pictograms on cigarette boxes to warn consumers of the dangers of smoking. 

Such pictorial warnings would enhance the effectiveness of package warnings, especially in countries with high illiteracy rates or where smokers had grown accustomed to text-only warnings, said Mary Assunta, a steering committee member of the Framework Convention Alliance (FCA). 

The warning on cigarette boxes should also be “bold and obtrusive” in order to be effective, she said in a telephone interview from Sydney University on Friday. 

These are some of the recommendations the FCA, representing the NGOs, including the Consumers Association of Penang, wants inserted in the upcoming and final negotiations on the first international treaty on tobacco control – known as the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) – to be held in Geneva from Feb 17 to Feb 28. 

Assunta said Canada for example, used pictorial warnings on cigarette boxes and a year after, a survey showed that 80% of smokers noticed it. 

She said the warning messages in Malaysia were ineffective because they were too small, placed on the side of the box and too general in nature. 

“The warnings should also be rotational so that different messages are given prominence over time. This will be far more accurate than a general warning since smoking is known to cause 25 health-threatening diseases,” Assunta said. 

“The sixth and final round of negotiations (in Geneva) is the last opportunity for governments to negotiate a convention that truly protects public health and is a proportionate response to the public health catastrophe it is intended to address,” she said. 

She added that the FCA wanted to see the public health treaty, to be finalised in Geneva and adopted in May at the World Health Assembly, strengthen its clauses on advertising, packaging and labelling, trade, and tobacco smuggling and illicit trade. 

“Important measures that are justified on health grounds such as large warning labels and ban on misleading descriptions such as ‘light’ and ‘low tar’ are currently subject to legal threats by the tobacco industry,” Assunta said. 

Assunta said a strongly-worded treaty would give governments the mechanism and protection they needed to implement stronger domestic legislation to address a problem that had been described by the World Health Organisation as a “global epidemic.” 

It is predicted the cigarette-smoking will claim 10 million lives, seven million of which will be in developing countries, by 2030.  

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