Tobacco plain packaging catching on worldwide: New report shows

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10 November 2016 - The Canadian Cancer Society has released the fifth edition of its report: Cigarette Package Health Warnings: International Status Report

The report ranks 205 countries and territories based on the size of package health warnings, and lists countries that have required picture warnings. The report also documents the countries that have required plain packaging or are working on it.

Canada ties for 8th in the world with package warnings that cover 75% of the package’s front and back. Nepal and Vanuatu are tied for top spot with a warning size of 90%, while India and Thailand are 3rd at 85%. The United States is in last place with minimal requirements for health warnings on either the front or back of the package.

For both picture warnings and plain packaging, there is considerable international momentum.

The trend to reduce smoking and cancer rates by forcing tobacco companies to use plain packaging is gaining momentum across the globe, concludes an international report released today by the Canadian Cancer Society. The report shows that 4 countries have plain packaging laws in place and 14 others are working on it.

Plain packaging requirements prevent tobacco companies from using colours, logos and design elements to market their cancer-causing products. The shape of the package must be in a standardized format, outlawing sales tactics such as slim packs appealing to girls and young women. Health warnings still appear on plain packages.

“Plain packaging is a global trend and it is coming to Canada, too,” says Rob Cunningham, senior policy analyst, Canadian Cancer Society. “We must continue to show leadership in the fight against the marketing of tobacco.”

In 2001 Canada was the first country in the world to implement graphic picture warnings on cigarette packages. Since then, more than 100 countries and territories (105 in total) have followed Canada’s lead – accounting for 58% of the world’s population – as illustrated in this graph. Canada’s leadership in graphic picture warnings has resulted in enormous health benefits globally.

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in Canada, including about 30% of all cancer deaths and 85% of lung cancer cases. Tobacco kills 37,000 Canadians every year.

Tobacco packaging is one of the last and most effective ways for companies to promote their products, with eye-catching logos and colours designed to appeal to consumers. Plain packaging reduces tobacco use by eliminating promotion on packaging, reducing product appeal, curbing package deception, and increasing the impact of health warnings. Research shows that plain packaging works.

“Plain packaging is a crucial next step for Canada to reduce smoking and save lives,” says Cunningham. “We strongly support the federal government’s commitment to follow the lead of Australia and other countries to implement plain packaging to curtail the marketing of these cancer-causing products.”

Plain packaging is required in Australia, the United Kingdom and France, and will be by 2018 in Hungary. The 14 countries working on plain packaging are Canada, New Zealand, Ireland, Norway, Slovenia, Uruguay, Thailand, Singapore, Belgium, Romania, Turkey, Finland, Chile and South Africa.

Other report highlights include:

  • 94 countries and territories require warnings to cover at least 50% of the package front and back (on average), up from 60 countries in 2014 and 24 in 2008.
  • The top countries ranked in terms of warning size (as an average of the front and back of the package) are:

1. 90% Nepal
1. 90% Vanuatu (effective in 2017)
3. 85% Thailand
3. 85% India
5. 82.5% Australia (75% of front, 90% of back)
6. 80% Sri Lanka
6. 80% Uruguay
8. 75% Brunei
8. 75% Canada
8. 75% Laos
8. 75% Myanmar

The Canadian Cancer Society’s report was released in Delhi, India, at the 7th session of the Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. The report was released to support implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, ratified by 180 countries. The goal of this international treaty is to control the global tobacco epidemic. Its guidelines recommend that parties consider implementing plain packaging.

Cigarette Package Health Warnings report in English
Cigarette Package Health Warnings report in French