"Lipstick" cigarette packages woo young women, while countries hesitate to use graphic warnings

Copenhagen, 7 July 2011

The new WHO report on the global tobacco epidemic reveals that only 13 out of 53 countries in the WHO European Region, most of them in the European Union, require cigarette packets to carry pictorial warnings about the dangers of smoking, and most of these graphic images cover less than half of the package. Of the remaining 40 countries, 27 stipulate that packets carry warnings of various kinds, but graphic images are not yet required, and the others call for weaker warnings. No country in the Region uses large and clear health warnings, on the front and back of packets, that highlight specific illnesses, as agreed in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

The tobacco industry specifically targets girls and young women through appealing pack designs. Countries increasingly restrict and ban conventional tobacco advertising: over 81% of those in the European Region ban advertising, promotion and sponsorship. The tobacco industry circumvents these bans by investing heavily in less traditional forms of promotion, such as using the packet itself as advertising.

“Health warnings on tobacco packs that combine text and pictures are one of the most inexpensive and powerful ways to increase public awareness of the serious health risks of tobacco use,” says Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, “yet much more emphasis needs to be placed on this simple, cost-effective measure in the European Region. We are seeing the consequences of this in some parts of the Region, where the use of tobacco among young females is drastically increasing.”

The industry has identified women and girls as a highly viable market, and recently used new product designs, such as tobacco packages that resemble lipsticks. Social and cultural constraints are weakening, and tobacco use by females has become acceptable, and possibly even glamorous. Female spending power is increasing, and the industry’s false portrayal of smoking as a symbol of empowerment has indisputable impact.

The new WHO report offers a powerful tool to show not only where interventions have succeeded and illustrate good practice but also where more progress is needed. In the WHO European Region, Turkey has drawn attention for increasing free radio and television time for anti-tobacco advertising, as has the Russian Federation for using hard-hitting anti-tobacco advertising as a catalyst for change.

The evidence shows that effective health warnings, especially those that include pictures, motivate users to quit and reduce the appeal of tobacco to people who are not yet addicted. Yet only close to 39% of the population in the WHO European Region lives in countries that require such warnings on tobacco packaging.

Tobacco is the single most preventable cause of death in the world. This year, it will kill nearly 6 million people: more than tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and malaria combined.

Other key findings from the report include:

  • 23% of the population in the Region (207 448 988 people) is protected by comprehensive national legislation banning smoking in public places;
  • 19% of countries still allow smoking in hospitals and schools; and
  • 62% of countries offer national toll-free quitlines, although 1 does not offer any support to quit tobacco use.

In addition, the WHO European Region excels in tobacco taxation. Of the 27 countries and territories in the world with the highest tobacco taxes, 22 countries are in the Region, and 42% of European countries have tobacco taxes that make up more than 75% of the retail price.

On average, tax comprises 75% of the retail price in high-income countries, and 51% in low- and middle-income countries. Ireland has the most expensive price for a twenty-piece pack of the best-selling and the cheapest brands. Kazakhstan has the lowest price for the best-selling brand and the Republic of Moldova has the lowest price for the cheapest brand.

The WHO headquarters web site offers further information, including both the WHO report on the global tobacco epidemic and the WHO FCTC.

For technical questions, please contact:

Rula Khoury, Acting Programme Manager,
Tobacco control
WHO Regional Office for Europe
Tel +45 24 98 39 90. (mobile)
E-mail: rkh@euro.who.int

For further information and interview requests, please contact:

Vivienne Taylor Gee
Communications Adviser
WHO Regional Office for Europe
Tel.: +45 39 17 12 31, +45 22 72 36 91 (mobile)
E-mail: vge@euro.who.int