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July 7, 2011

More Than 1 Billion People in 19 Countries Covered by Laws Requiring Graphic Warnings on Tobacco Packages

More than 1 billion people in 19 countries are covered by laws requiring large, graphic health warnings on packages of tobacco, nearly double the number of two years ago, according to the World Health Organization's Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic 2011.

Mexico, Peru and the United States are the latest countries to require the large, graphic warnings, which help to motivate people to qive up tobacco and reduce the product's appeal to those not yet addicted. Although this shows that progress has been made, the fact that these 19 countries represent only 15 percent of the world’s population, means that more work needs to be done.

WHO chose to make “warning about the dangers of tobacco” the focus of the 2011 Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic. The report, WHO’s third on the global tobacco epidemic, examines in detail the two primary strategies to provide health warnings—labels on tobacco-product packaging and anti-tobacco mass media campaigns.

The report also tracks achievement of the tobacco control package called MPOWER, which WHO introduced in 2008 to help countries put into place some of the policy measures in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. These measures are:

The report tracks the tobacco pandemic, giving governments and other stakeholders a tool to see where evidence-based interventions have been implemented and where more progress is needed. It gives country-by-country tobacco use prevalence figures, as well as data on cigarette taxation, bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, support for treatment of tobacco dependence, enforcement of tobacco-free laws and monitoring of the epidemic.

Tobacco use continues to be the leading preventable cause of death, killing nearly 6 million people per year. More than 80 percent of those premature deaths would occur in low- and middle-income countries—in other words, precisely where it is hardest to deflect and to bear such tremendous losses.

“Urgent action is needed to address this pandemic,” said Joanna Cohen, PhD, director of the Institute for Global Tobacco Control at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “The WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, 2011 is an essential resource.”  

Other key findings of the report include the following.

Media contact: Tim Parsons, director of Public Affairs, at 410-955-7619 or  tmparson@jhsph.edu.