Aug 8, 2011
The National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA) called for the introduction of necessary laws which would require the industry to include pictorial health warnings on all tobacco packaging to show the sickness and suffering caused by tobacco use.
Pictures of deceased lungs, oral cancer, wasted gums, children afflicted due to second-hand smoke etc. should be displayed covering at least 50 per cent of the pack to make smokers aware of the possible health complications due to smoking, NATA said.
NATA also said that Sri Lanka had not yet fulfilled its obligation to include pictorial health warnings on tobacco packagings under the WHO sponsored Frame Work Convention on Tobacco Control introduced in 2005 (as a signatory to the FCTC Sri Lanka should have introduced pictorial warnings by 2009).
NATA Chief Prof.Carlo Fonseka said that pictorial warnings on packagings was one of the most influential modes in communicating risks of tobacco use to users. “Graphic pictorial warnings can be very helpful in decreasing tobacco use by increasing public awareness of its dangers”, he added.
Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena commenting on the matter said that his Ministry was making every effort to bring in necessary regulations including amendments to the NATA Act which would strengthen measures at tobacco control in the country.
The minister however admitted that applying the proposed amendments to the Act which includes a 100 percent smoking ban in all public places is being delayed due to certain snags and added that such obstacles would not deter him from achieving the task.
As one of the first signatories to the FCTC, the world’s first global public health treaty, Sri Lanka should have included graphic pictorial warnings on packaging by 2009.
Speaking alongside Prof. Fonseka at a media awareness event organised by the ‘Jeevaka Foundation’, the head of Cancer Care Association and Oncologist at National Cancer Hospital, Maharagama, Dr, Samadhi Rajapaksa asserted “pictorial warnings on tobacco packaging works”.
“Our most effective communication vehicle with the smokers is the pack itself”, he added emphasizing the importance of using pictorial warnings on packaging to make users aware of its dangers.
According to Dr. Rajapaksa graphic warnings should cover at least 50 per cent of the pack. It should not be lower than 30 per cent at any event. It presents no financial cost to the government, fees are borne by tobacco companies, he added.
Studies carried out after the implementation of pictorial package warnings (warnings using pictures and text) in Brazil, Canada, Singapore and Thailand reveal remarkably consistent findings on the positive impact of the warnings.
“After Singapore introduced its pictorial warnings in 2004, a survey revealed that 28 percent of smokers reported smoking fewer cigarettes, 14 percent said they avoided smoking in front of children, 12 percent reported quitting smoking in front of pregnant women and 08 percent said they smoked less at home”.
“After Brazil introduced it in 2002, 73 percent of smokers said they approved it and 54 percent said they had changed their opinion about health consequences of smoking and 67 percent had said new warnings made them want to quit”, he said.
According to Dr. Rajapaksa, a cigarette contains 4000 harmful substances with 40 of them having a direct impact on cancer.
In Sri Lanka, the Maharagama hospital alone receives 18,000-20,000 new cancer patients annually with the main cause suspected to be smoking, he said.
As most smokers in Sri Lanka are from low income earning families pictorial warnings would be a most effective way of reaching out to them in educating them about the health risks associated with smoking, Dr. Rajapaksa says.
According to WHO, the leading preventable cause of death, tobacco kills more than five million people every year.
One tobacco death occurs every six seconds. Tobacco killed 100 million in the 20th century and if preventable measures are not taken it could kill one billion in the 21st century.
Source: Daily News (August 8, 2011)