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Tobacco: a picture of ill-health

The United Nations is once again celebrating “World No Tobacco Day” on May the 31st 2010. The theme of this 22th anniversary of the global initiative is "Gender and tobacco with an emphasis on marketing to women". This year the UN’s World Health Organization warns, through an impact campaign, about tobacco companies’ aggressive marketing strategies that specifically target women.

In Europe, national governments are turning to impact images on cigarette boxes to warn smokers and non-smokers of the dangers, as recommended by European Commission directives . The last country to adopt this measure was Spain, on May 14, 2010, following the United Kingdom, Belgium and Romania.

The era when cigarettes’ had a young and fancy image is over. The cowboy of a certain famous US tobacco brand is not anymore an attractive icon. Having won the battle of the smoking ban in public places and in the workplace, as well as the battle of price increases through taxes, international institutions and national authorities are turning to impact images to warn smokers every time they pick up their packet and to paint them a picture of ill-health.

On “World No Tobacco Day” looks at the latest and most shocking anti tobacco campaigns and puts together the links to the main institutions fighting tobacco smoke and some, more difficult to find, that still defend it.

WHO campaign

'Smoke is ugly’. Shock campaign of the World Health Organization against marketing targeting women. The theme of this 2010 World No Tobacco Day is Gender and tobacco with an emphasis on marketing to women. The WHO has evidence that tobacco use among girls is increasing in some countries and regions. In half of the 151 countries recently surveyed for trends in tobacco use among young people, approximately as many girls used tobacco as boys, while women are only about 20% of the world's smokers. More girls used tobacco than boys in some of the countries, including Bulgaria, Chile, Colombia, Cook Islands, Croatia, Czech Republic, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria and Uruguay.

EU Commission campaign

This is what UK, Belgium and Romania smokers see every time they want a cigarrette. And what smokers of the whole Europe and Turkey, that has adopted the same catalogue, will see around 2011.

Warnings in other EU countries

That's how will look european tobacco packs soon (or how they already look, in some cases). (pdf)

AustriaBelgiumCyprusCzech RepublicDenmark Estonia



SlovakiaSloveniaSpainSwedenUnited Kingdom

Even while they look quite ugly, images of EU Commission catalogue are soft compared to other countries’ proposals:

OMS overview on other countries warnings (pdf)

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Thankfully we have our colleague's Etienne Barthomeuf cartoons to take a visual break.

Smoker public perception

Evolution of smokers' public image...

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"In 2002 the United Kingdom (45.2%) and France (44.1%) were the two countries with the highest percentage of smokers, followed by Denmark (42.6%) and Greece (42.0%)."

"In 2009 Southern Europe countries see the greatest proportion of smokers, specifically Greece, where the proportion of smokers exceeds 40%. Smoking is the next highest in Bulgaria (39%) and Hungary (38%) and Turkey (37%) and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (37%). The UK has dramatically reduced the proportion (28%)."

"Survey on tobacco Fieldwork: October 2009 Publication: May 2010. In 2002 “Portugal (29.3%) had the fewest smokers, with Sweden (33.0%) and Luxembourg (33.8%) just above."

"In 2009, Portugal still one of the countries with fewer smokers (23%) but has been passed by Sweden (16%)."

"The Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark have the greatest proportion of respondents who have given up smoking; 33%, 31% and 31% respectively. The countries with the next greatest proportion of ex-smokers are Finland, France and Germany, each with between 26% and 27%. The UK, Slovenia and Austria are not far behind, with between 23% and 25% of respondents who have quit smoking” flash Eurobarometer. Survey on tobacco Fieldwork: October 2009 Publication: May 2010

"Russia is the country where the habit of smoking is most popular. Some 65 percent of men and 30 percent of women smoke here. Of them, 80 percent and 50 percent respectively started smoking before getting 18 years old, signaled statistics of Rospotrebnadzor" Kommersant russian daily, in November 2007.

"Approximately 36 percent of the Chinese population smokes. The rate of smokers is 66.9 percent among men and 3.2 percent among women" Association for Asia Research.

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The World Bank
Economics of tobacco control
About effectiveness and economics of package warning (2003)

ESPN (European Network for Smoking Prevention)
Receives financial support from the European Commission in the framework of the Public Health Program. ENSP gathers some 500 member organizations in 29 national coalitions.

ASH (Action on Smoking and Health)
UK. Established in 1971 by the Royal College of Physicians.

Association of European Cancer Leagues

Report on effectiveness of graphic warnings on tobacco packaging.
Research document prepared for Australian Government.
Linked on Physicians for a Smoking Free Canada web page. (pdf)

Still in Canada, the Tobacco Labelling Resource Center, developed to help promote effective, evidence-based labelling policies, offers information and resources about pictorial warnings around the world.

Some smokers feel chased and organize themselves in lobbies and associations, here are some examples:

Danish Smokers Party
Forest. Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Tobacco (UK)
Smokers Association (US)

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"Every year, some 5.4 million people die from illnesses caused by tobacco consumption –- 80 per cent of them in low- and middle-income countries. Up to half of all smokers die from a tobacco-related disease, and science has shown that second-hand smoke harms everyone who is exposed to it. Left unchecked, tobacco-related deaths will rise to more than 8 million by 2030" UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s message for World No Tobacco Day.


"According to a recent analysis of 117 national implementation reports, nearly 80 per cent of the Parties to the Convention prohibited sales of tobacco products to minors and 70 per cent have introduced large, clear and visible health warnings on the packages of tobacco products" WHO on World No Tobacco Day.


"Tobacco kills 650,000 Europeans every year, and many lives could be saved from reducing tobacco consumption. I am particularly concerned about smoking rates amongst young people: Europe cannot passively watch future generations smoke away their health!" John Dalli, Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy.


"The Eurobarometer survey shows that European citizens favour stricter tobacco control measures. There is high public support for picture health warnings on tobacco packs (75% in favor)" EU-UN website on World No Tobacco Day 2010.


"More than two-thirds of all respondents (67.6%) do not think that health warnings placed on cigarette packages will cause people to smoke less or to stop smoking" Eurobarometer 2002. Publication 2003.


"While levels of tobacco use have dropped in many affluent countries, they are on the rise in developing countries which are seen as “the new frontier for the marketing of tobacco products” particularly to girls and women" Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General.

EU policies seem to work


WHO videos

Videos related to the fight against the global tobacco epidemic. For more videos from WHO visit them on youtube

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