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World No Tobacco Day 2009
31 May 2009
Health Promotion


Theme: "Tobacco Health Warnings"


The World Health Organization selects "Tobacco Health Warnings" as the theme for the 20th World No Tobacco Day, which will take place on 31 May 2009. Health warnings on tobacco packages that combine text and pictures are one of the most cost-effective ways to increase public awareness of the serious health risks of tobacco use and to reduce tobacco consumption.

Most people are unaware of the extent of the harm that tobacco causes, even if they have some idea that it is a health risk. Nicotine is a highly addictive substance. Tobacco companies use packaging and other advertising techniques to make tobacco appealing, while distracting consumers from the harsh reality of how tobacco destroys health.

Effective health warnings, especially those that include pictures, have been proven to motivate users to quit and to reduce the appeal of tobacco for those who are not yet addicted. These health warnings should meet all the criteria for maximal effectiveness, including that they cover more than half of the pack, appear on both the front and back of the pack and contain pictures.

Warnings on packaging that include images of the harm that tobacco causes are particularly effective at communicating risk and motivating behavioral changes, such as quitting or reducing tobacco consumption. Picture warnings convey a clear and immediate message, even to people who cannot read. They reduce the overall attractiveness of tobacco packages.

More and more countries are requiring that tobacco packages graphically show the dangers of tobacco. Despite this fact, 9 out of 10 people live in countries that do not require warnings with pictures on tobacco packages.

Call for action:

Placing picture warnings on all tobacco products is an appropriate and highly cost-effective way to warn consumers about the risks of tobacco and to reduce tobacco consumption.

Call to policy-makers:
  • Promote your country's accession to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, whose Article 11 guidelines lay out the elements of effective tobacco health warnings.
  • Use the MPOWER package specifically the "W" which stands for "Warn about the dangers of tobacco".
  • Require by law that all tobacco products display large picture warnings about the harm caused by tobacco and its many other negative consequences.
  • Build on the experiences of other countries to craft the most effective warnings and implement them for the greatest possible impact.
  • Base your decisions on impartial scientific evidence, not on the claims of the tobacco industry.
Call to civil society and nongovernmental organization:
  • Advocate for picture-based warnings on all tobacco products.
  • Campaign for and help to develop and implement laws that require picture-based warnings on tobacco products.
  • Act as a watchdog to monitor tobacco-industry packaging strategies and compliance with statutory warnings.
  • Evaluate and share information about the effectiveness of picture warnings.
Call to the public:
  • Demand your right to know the whole truth about the dangers of tobacco use and exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke.
  • Let everyone know that you support picture warnings.