03 June 2010

Warning: Poison

Health warnings on cigarette packs are among the strongest defences against the global tobacco epidemic. Take a look at examples of what lobbyists want to see on cigarette packs.

Throats eaten away by cancer, mouths suppurating with gum disease, kids struggling to breathe, gangrenous limbs, open-heart surgery. The new tobacco health warnings pull no punches.

Look at the new graphics defacing your favourite tobacco product.

The images used are all disturbing, but some are so gruesome they might just make you drop the pack. You certainly wouldn’t want a child anywhere near them. Which is precisely the point.

Countries around the world are changing their tobacco control legislation so that products have to display such explicit warnings. At present, South African cigarette packs display only written warnings, but legislation is in the works for that to soon change. The following are examples of what to expect (these are in fact some of the less gruesome ones):


A grimly effective WHO design for a cigarette box, with reference to the fact that smoking is a risk factor for gum disease and mouth cancers.



An eye-opening warning from New Zealand: smoking causes blindness.


Australia: this image gives graphic emphasis to the link between smoking and blocked arteries.


A Peruvian reminder that smoking worsens childhood asthma.


Another WHO design for a warning that smoking doubles the risk of stroke.


“Sensual?” Hardly. Not all the graphics used relate directly to health risks. Some, like this one from Uruguay, focus more on how smoking makes you less physically attractive.


But does it work?
Health24’s been running a poll on what readers think about this, and so far about 70% say it wouldn’t make any difference. Well, the World Health Organization (WHO), and other notable medical organisations such as the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), disagree.

Research shows that health warnings on cigarette packs are among the strongest defences against the global tobacco epidemic, but warnings that include pictures and words are by far the most effective in getting smokers to quit. And yes: the more gruesome, the better.

Consider this: if you're a pack-day-smoker, you see your cigarette pack 7300 times a year. With a graphic health warning, that's 7300 little shock reminders of how the addiction's ravaging your health.

(- Olivia Rose-Innes, EnviroHealth Editor, Health24, updated May 2010)

Information and images source:
World Health Organisation. Showing the Truth, Saving Lives: The Case for Pictorial Health Warnings. WHO World No Tobacco Day brochure. 2009

World No Tobacco Day is held annually on 31 May.


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