Tobacco firms slammed over warning labels


  • Nation
  • Thursday, 20 Feb 2003

BY JACQUELINE ANN SURIN

KUALA LUMPUR: The Commonwealth Medical Association (CMA) has slammed two tobacco companies for their rejection of the use of pictorial warnings on cigarette boxes, describing their statements as “emotional” and “not very rational.” 

CMA president Datuk Dr P. Krishnan said it was common knowledge that pictorial images were more effective as a deterrent measure, citing the examples of no handphone signs in banks and the use of pictures to depict hazardous materials.  

“Pictures are more representative of the dangers of smoking,” he said yesterday at the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) office before a prize-winning ceremony for a national anti-smoking poster drawing and slogan competition. 

Dr Krishnan and MMA president Datuk Dr N. Athimulam said both associations fully supported the call by more than 180 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) under the Framework Convention Alliance (FCA) for pictorial warnings to be inserted in the first international treaty on tobacco control that is currently being finalised in Geneva. 

PICTURE MESSAGE: Dr Athimulam(left) and Prof Dr Rampal showing differences between pictorial warning used in Canada and the text-only warning on Malaysian cigarette packs.

CMA is involved in negotiations of the World Health Organisation-sponsored Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, while MMA is represented at the meeting in the CMA and the World Medical Association. 

Dr Krishnan and Dr Athimulam said both CMA and MMA also supported the call for larger and rotational warning labels. 

Major cigarette companies, namely British American Tobacco (BAT) and Japan Tobacco International (JTI), last week rejected the NGOs’ position, saying there was no evidence these warnings were effective. 

BAT – the largest cigarette company in Malaysia – had said in a statement that pictorial warnings represented “an emotional rather than a rational response to the issue of consumer information or awareness.” 

FCA steering committee member Mary Assunta had in an earlier report in The Star cited the successful use of pictorial warnings in Canada, and said pictorial warnings were more effective, especially in countries with high illiteracy rates or where smokers have grown accustomed to text-only warnings. 

MMA’s Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) chairman Assoc Prof Dr Lekhraj Rampal said a verbal assurance was given in 1993 at a meeting with the tobacco industry and the Health Ministry that the warning labels, which fell under the purview of the ministry that year following the enforcement of the Control of Tobacco Products Regulations, would be reviewed and changed after three years.  

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