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Picture warnings on tobacco products will save lives

The graphic health warnings that will appear on tobacco products as part of a new law will help save many lives, says the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) as part of its tobacco awareness campaign in May.

Amendments to the Tobacco Products Control Act of 1993, expected to take effect on 31 May 2009, are great for public health as the law will further restrict smoking in public places and control the promotion of tobacco products. Measures include increasing the age to 18 for people allowed to buy tobacco products, banning smoking in cars with children under 12, not allowing people under 18 to go into designated smoking sections, smoke-free sports stadiums and the use of pictorial health warnings to discourage people from buying or using tobacco products.

The World Health Organization (WHO) selects “Tobacco Health Warnings” as the theme for this year’s World No Tobacco Day on 31 May 2009. Such pictorial warnings already appear in more than a dozen countries, including Australia, Brazil, Canada and Singapore.

Tobacco is the leading preventable cause of death worldwide, killing more than 5.4 million people each year. In South Africa, over 44 000 people die from tobacco-related diseases every year, including many kinds of cancer. Tobacco is the only legal consumer product that kills when used exactly as the manufacturer intends. Up to half of all smokers will die from a tobacco-related disease. Second-hand smoke harms everyone who is exposed to it.

“Tobacco companies spend tens of millions of dollars every year turning new users into addicts and keeping current users from quitting,” says CANSA. “Through advertising and promotional campaigns, including the use of carefully crafted package designs, the tobacco industry continues to divert attention from the deadly effects of its products.”

More and more countries are fighting back by requiring that tobacco packages graphically show the dangers of tobacco, as called for in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

“Effective health warnings, especially those that include pictures, have been proven to motivate users to quit and to discourage non-users from starting,” says CANSA. “Despite this fact, 9 out of 10 people live in countries that do not require warnings with pictures on tobacco packages.”
Nicotine is a highly addictive substance. Warning people about its true risks can go a long way towards reducing tobacco addiction. Requiring warnings on tobacco packages is a simple, cheap and effective strategy that can vastly reduce tobacco use and save lives.

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