Could a change to the packaging help stop tobacco use?


The United Nations' health agency says "plain packaging" on tobacco products has shown to be an effective complement to health warnings, advertising restrictions, and curbs on misleading packaging to help save lives.

The World Health Organization released Tuesday an 86-page report on "plain packaging," hoping to decrease the lure of smoking on "World No Tobacco Day."

WHO Director General Dr. Margaret Chan said plain packaging "kills the glamour, which is appropriate for a product that kills people."

"It restricts tobacco advertising and promotion. It limits misleading packaging and labelling. And it increases the effectiveness of health warnings," Chan said in a statement.

The report chronicles the effort to strip tobacco packaging of logos, colors and brand imagery and contradicts legal challenges from the tobacco industry.

Approximately 1 person dies from a tobacco-related illness every 6 seconds, equivalent to almost 6 million people a year, WHO reports. That number is expected to rise to more than 8 million people a year by 2030 -- with more than 80 percent of those deaths considered preventable occurring among people living in low-and middle-income countries.

Australia became the first WHO member state to introduce plain packaging in 2012. Between then and September 2015, there was an additional 0.55 percentage point decline in smoking prevalence among those aged 14 and over, attributable to the packaging changes, according the country's post-implementation review. This equates to more than 108,000 people quitting, not relapsing or not starting to smoke during that period.

Other countries have followed, with New Zealand announcing on Tuesday that it will push ahead with similar plans.

"Most governments are committed to curbing the tobacco epidemic and reducing tobacco-related harm, such as deaths from cancers, heart and lung diseases," said Dr. Vera da Costa e Silva, Head of the WHO Framework Convention for Tobacco Control Secretariat. "It is vital they have access to evidence-based, effective guidance that can support their efforts to protect the health of their populations."