The World Health Organization says graphic pictures on cigarette packages are effective in getting people to quit smoking. As part of the commemoration Sunday of this year's World No Tobacco Day, the WHO is launching a campaign to decrease tobacco use by increasing public awareness of its dangers.
Anti-tobacco activists are on the offensive. They want to shock and awe smokers into quitting. And the way they plan to do this is by getting countries to put graphic and sickening images along with words of warning on cigarette packs.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words and showing the physical harm smoking can do will make people take notice.
The Director of WHO's Tobacco Free Initiative, Douglas Bettcher, says there is clear evidence that this type of packaging is effective.
"The use of candid, often shocking pictures is one of the most exciting, cost-effective and effective trends in tobacco-control today," said Douglas Bettcher. "It is a positive form of globalization for public health. Although some people question the need for such pictures, the evidence is absolutely clear that they convince people to quit."
And, that evidence, says Bettcher, comes from Canada, which eight years ago took the revolutionary step of becoming the first country to require bold, graphic health warnings and pictures on cigarette packs.
"Today, more than 20 countries, with a combined population of nearly 700 million require these picture health warnings. Four other countries will put them into place between now and next year," added Douglas Bettcher. "Yet, only 10 percent of the world's population yet lives in countries where these effective warnings exist."
Studies in Brazil, Canada, Singapore and Thailand-all countries that use pictorial package warnings-show these messages are very persuasive in getting people to give up smoking.
Tobacco is the leading preventable cause of death. The World Health Organization reports more than five million people die every year from tobacco-related causes, such as, cancer, heart disease and stroke. And most of these deaths occur in poor, developing countries.
WHO says some of the most effective interventions for reducing tobacco use include banning smoking in all public places and work places, banning tobacco advertising and sponsorship, and raising taxes and prices on a pack of cigarettes.