On December 1, Australia became the first country to mandate that cigarettes must be sold in plain packets which carry graphic health warnings, the first country in the world to make this requirement. At one time in the 1960s the United States lead the world in requiring health warnings on cigarette packages, but no more. Now we have one of the smallest warning labels on a pack. Not all countries require graphic, picture warnings labels, but many counties require that the written warnings take up 30% or more of the front of the pack. Here’s a look at how some other countries handle cigarette warning labels.
Brazil became the first country in Latin America to require picture warning labels on their cigarette packs. The images, which take up 100% of the back of the pack, have been in place since 2001. Brazil was also the first country in the world to ban words such as “light” and “low-tar”. Smoking rates went from 35% in 1989, two years prior to the package requirement, to 22% two years after implementation. Brazil is currently on its third set of graphic images.
Uruguay signed the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and put many new policies in place. Picture warning labels were first introduced in 2006, and were increased in size from 50% to 80% of both front and back of the pack by 2010. When the images increased in size, the number of smokers who reported the that “the warnings made them more likely to think about quitting” almost doubled, from 15.6% to 30.3%. Uruguay is also the first country to ban smoking in both private and public enclosed spaces. According to the Ministry of Public Health, over 70% of this country’s smokers support the measures put in place. Philip Morris International has sued the small country claiming the requirement of graphic health images on 80% of the cigarette pack is too extreme and goes “beyond what is necessary to reduce the harm caused by smoking.” If graphic images didn’t work, the tobacco companies wouldn’t be suing.
Closer to home, since 2000 Canada has had graphic warning labels that take up 50% of the display space. In Canada, not only do you get warned in English that smoking is bad for you, they repeat it for you in French to make sure you understand. In March 2012 new package reforms took place. All cigarette packs made in Canada or imported must have new warnings which are required to take up 75% of the front and back of the pack. Side panels also contain warnings.
The U.S. has one of the smallest warnings on their cigarette packs and the tobacco industry is doing all it can to keep it that way. The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009 required that by September 2012 graphic labels on cigarette packs had to cover 50% of the package, but the tobacco industry filed suit against the FDA to halt this requirement. A judge sided with the five tobacco companies citing it violates their “freedom of speech.” Warning labels on tobacco products will remain minuscule for the time being here in the U.S. while European nations work to enforce larger warnings on their packs.