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World No Tobacco Day Commemorated

Jun 4, 2009, 7:19 AM | Article By: Pa Modou Faal

The Gambia last Sunday 31 May 2009, joined the rest of the world in commemorating World No Tobacco Day, the only legal consumer product that kills when used exactly as directed by the manufacturer.

Described as the leading preventable cause of deaths in the world, Tobacco effects kill more than five million people.

In a statement read on his behalf by Dr Thomas Sukwa, WHO representative in the Gambia, the WHO Regional Director said smoking tobacco in any form causes up to 90% of all lung cancers and is a significant risk factor for strokes and fatal heart attacks. "Second-hand smoke harms everyone who is exposed to it and has serious and often fatal health consequences, such as sudden infant death syndrome. Smokeless tobacco is also highly addictive and causes cancer of the mouth, neck, oesophagus and pancreas as well as many oral diseases. Some forms of smokeless tobacco also increase the risk of heart disease and low-birth-weight in babies", he said.

According to the WHO Regional Director, through advertising and promotional campaigns, including the use of carefully crafted package designs, the tobacco industry continues to divert attention from the deadly effects of its products. 

Article 11 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, he added, requires signatories to carry on all packages "health warnings describing the harmful effects of tobacco use" and recommends that the warnings contain pictures. Nine out of ten people live in countries that do not require warnings with pictures on tobacco packages. 

"Tobacco health warnings containing both pictures and words are effective in motivating and convincing users to quit and to reduce the appeal of tobacco for those who are not yet addicted. Picture warnings convey a clear and immediate message, even to people who cannot read.  We need therefore to campaign for picture-based health warnings on all tobacco packages. These have been found to work in countries that have required their use", he added.

Smokers in those countries, he went on, said that the warnings made them think more about the health effects of smoking; they made them change their opinion about the health consequences of smoking and also helped them to make efforts to quit. "The warnings also made them smoke less and avoid smoking in front of children.

The main message of the 2009 World No Tobacco Day is that health warnings on tobacco packages that combine text and pictures are some of the most cost-effective ways of increasing public awareness of the serious health risks of tobacco use and of reducing tobacco consumption", the WHO Regional Director noted. 

"In our region", he went further, most of the countries do not mandate package warnings that meet all the criteria for effectiveness. "We encourage these countries to adopt tobacco health warnings that meet all the criteria for maximum effectiveness, such as covering more than half of the package with the warning and pictures or placing them on both the front and back of the package", he said. 

He appealed to governments and policy-makers to require by law that all tobacco products display large picture warnings about the harm caused by tobacco and its many other negative consequences.

"Your decisions should be based on impartial scientific evidence, not on the claims of the tobacco industry. Tobacco companies oppose strong health warnings, particularly those with pictures. The arguments they use against health warnings are false and should not be relied upon", he explained. 

He also called on civil society and nongovernmental organizations to advocate for picture-based warnings on all tobacco products and to campaign for and help to develop and implement laws that require picture-based warnings on tobacco products. 

The WHO Director also used the occasion to appeal to the public to demand the right to know the whole truth about the dangers of tobacco use and of exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke. "You should show the example by letting everyone know that you support picture warnings. Requiring warnings on tobacco packages is a simple, cheap, and effective strategy that can greatly reduce tobacco use. Now is the time to act if we are to reverse the tobacco epidemic and save lives", he averred.