Larger packet warnings fail to satisfy anti-smoking lobby, 16/07/11

Regulations requiring tobacco manufacturers to carry larger pictorial and written warnings on cigarette packets have failed to satisfy tobacco control groups.

They say the graphic warning pictures_ of cancers and other diseases which can be caused by smoking _ do not go far enough to deter smokers.

Churit Tengtrisorn, director of the Public Health Ministry’s Office of Tobacco Control Committee, has announced regulations requiring tobacco companies to increase the size of anti-smoking pictures to cover 60% of the pack, up from the current 55%.

Public Health Minister Jurin Laksanavisit has approved the regulation, which will take effect as soon as it is published in the Royal Gazette.

The health regulations will also contain stern text warnings, for example “cigarettes contain over 2,500 toxic chemicals”, said Dr Churit.

About 10.9 million Thais smoke, and about 42,000 smoking-related deaths take place here every year.

Anti-tobacco activists say the changes are still too timid. Larger pictures are needed to remind people about the dangers of smoking.

Bungon Ritthiphakdee, director of Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance, said Uruguay had succeeded in introducing warning pictures which made up 80% of the space on cigarette packs.

Ms Bungon said she and other anti-smoking advocates would discuss whether Uruguay’s initiative should be pursued in Thailand. She was concerned that cigarette producers might not use warning pictures on every pack.

As an example she cited Laos, where cigarette makers printed on their packages pictures celebrating traditional Lao New Year last April.

The packaging was inappropriate because it breached the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which requires parties to the convention to include large, rotating health warnings on all tobacco product packaging and labelling.

The Global Adult Tobacco Survey recently found that seven out of 10 smokers quit after seeing warning labels on cigarette packs, she said.

The survey is the global standard for monitoring adult tobacco use and tracking tobacco control methods employed in various countries.

Ms Bungon said the survey was conducted between 2007 and 2009 in 14 countries _ Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Mexico, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, Uruguay and Vietnam.

In Thailand, she said the survey was first conducted in 2009. Respondents in the poll were aged 15 and older.

“Though health warning standards under the FCTC are required to cover 55% of the front and the back of each cigarette pack, we should do more to stamp out smoking, which is harmful to both smokers and second-hand smokers,” she said.

“Based on the study’s finding, the larger the picture warning is, the more it will help people quit smoking.”

Ms Bungon said activists had also taken heart from curbs proposed on the tobacco industry in Australia, where producers are required to print anonymous, black and white packets.

The regulation takes effect in July 2012, she said.

She said manufacturers in Laos were resorting to new tricks to lure in young smokers, such as introducing lipstick-type cigarette packs.

Khatthanaphone Phadouangsy, deputy head of Health Promotion Division at the Ministry of Health, said about 40% of Laos’s population of 6 million smoke. Of the smokers, 5% are younger than 18. In Laos, women are taking up smoking in greater numbers.

About 10.9 million Thais smoke, according to the Public Health Ministry.

About 42,000 smoking-related deaths take place here every year.

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