Where do the health warning photos on cigarette boxes come from?

Where do the health warning photos on cigarette boxes come from?
Copyright Reuters/Charles Platiau, France 2017 (edited to remove the names of manufacturers)
By Lillo Montalto Monella
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Some people have sued authorities after mistaking cigarette box photos for family relatives or themselves.


A widower in Italy has claimed he recognised his late wife on a cigarette packet's health warning, according to national media reports.

His lawyer said in an interview with the Italian newspaper, la Repubblica, that the man was seeking €100 million in compensation.

It's not the first time someone has claimed to recognise themselves or a family member in a photograph on a cigarette box, but an EU Commission spokesperson says the individual in question was not portrayed in the photo.

The man's lawyer wants to sue cigarette producers in the United States, "because that's where these companies are based".

The law firm sent a request to reach an economic settlement with Philip Morris and Swiss Davidoff which have marketing agreements with Imperial Tobacco.

A legal representative for Imperial Tobacco, Enrico Ziino, told Euronews the company had nothing to do with the picture, explaining the warnings on cigarette boxes are a matter of EU regulations.

"All brands are involved, it is unclear why the legal claim only applies to us," Ziino told Euronews.

Where do cigarette box photos come from?

The health warnings on cigarette boxes in the European Union come from a European Commission picture library. All of the photos are publicly accessible and identical for all cigarette brands.

A 2014 European Commission directive states that each unit packet and outside packaging of tobacco products must "carry combined health warnings" including text and a corresponding photograph.

Those combined text and photo warnings come from an EU library that contains 42 pictures split into three sets. The sets are rotated annually to "minimise the wear-out effect of the warnings".

The photos came from "external contractors" who had a budget of €600,000 and who photographed 8,000 people in 10 different EU countries.

The Commission states in a fact sheet about the directive that it is aware of the identities of everyone in the photographs but has received claims from individuals stating that people were depicted without their consent.

"All individuals depicted in the pictures were informed that the pictures would be used as part of the EU picture library and signed consents for this purpose," the Commission fact sheet states on the subject.

This was reiterated by a spokesperson for the health and food safety department of the Commission who wrote to Euronews that "the Commission’s services have taken adequate care to ensure that the production of the photos used as pictorial health warnings was carefully documented and that all individuals depicted in the library of health warnings were fully informed of the use of their image and gave their consent to such a use".

Multiple claims about the same photo

There have been several similar claims covered by local media across Europe. The UK's Mirror interviewed a woman who claimed one of the photos on the cigarette box was her father. A man in Germany claimed the same photo showed him and two Italians also claimed to be subjects of the photograph of the man as well.

Last year, the Guardian published the story of a man named Tom Fraine, who said he accepted €300 while on sabbatical in Berlin in 2012 to pose "dead" for cigarette warnings. He specified that he himself did not smoke.

Euronews is not aware of any cases in which legal actions claiming the photos have led to compensation.

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