GENEVA - Citing growing evidence that plain packaging of tobacco products saves lives by reducing demand for the lethal product, the World Health Organization (WHO) marked World No Tobacco Day by urging countries to make smoking less attractive by dropping glamorous packaging.
The type of plain packaging of tobacco products proposed by the WHO stands in sharp contrast to wrappers featuring rugged cowboys smoking in the great outdoors.
Sample packages are black, with large warnings that smoking kills and graphic images of people dying from cancer. Douglas Bettcher, the WHO's director for the prevention of non-communicable diseases, says the point of plain packaging is to reduce demand for tobacco by reducing the attractiveness of these products.
“It very clearly labels tobacco for what it is, the only legally available product worldwide that when used as intended kills up to half of its users,” said Bettcher.
The WHO reports almost 6 million people a year die prematurely from tobacco-related illnesses. The number is projected to rise to more than 8 million by 2030, with more than 80 percent of these preventable deaths occurring in developing countries.
Australia in 2012 became the first country to introduce plain packaging of tobacco products, along with new and enlarged health warnings. France and Britain have since followed suit. The WHO says other countries including Ireland, Norway, Singapore, Belgium and New Zealand are also planning to implement this measure.
Benn McGrady, an Australian lawyer and technical officer at the WHO, says Australia conducted a 34-month review between December 2012 and September 2015 to gauge the impact of plain packaging.
“Over that period there was approximately a 2 percentage point reduction in the prevalence of smoking in Australia. Zero-point-55 percentage points is attributable to the packaging changes,” he said.
McGrady added there were an estimated 108,000 fewer smokers over that period as a consequence of the changes to packaging and labeling.