Getting graphic at last

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Getting graphic at last

The Ministry of Health and Welfare has unveiled ten samples of pictorial warnings that will be required on cigarette packs from the end of this year. Five labels are designed to warn of cancer and other health threats from smoking. The others illustrate the harms of secondary smoking and smoking during pregnancy.

The labels will go on cigarette packs available from Dec. 23. The warning labels will be coming into force for the first time since a related bill was proposed in 2012. It will be 15 years behind Canada, which was the first country to implement graphic warning labels in 2001. Korea has been lagging in its anti-smoking campaign. The smoking rate among its male population was 43.1 percent in 2014, ranking first among the members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The only anti-smoking policy of the government was cigarette price hikes and we deferred pictorial warning labels that were strongly recommended by the World Health Organization.

The effect of graphic warnings to contain smoking has been proven in various empirical studies. The smoking rate in Canada was brought down to 18 percent from 24 percent in five years and in the UK it went from 27 percent to 19 percent in 10 years. Yet Korea stuck to its price policy. By upping the price on all cigarettes by 2,000 won ($1.74) per pack last year, the government vowed to lower the smoking rate to the OECD average of 29 percent. But the price hike merely boosted tax revenue by 3.6 trillion won last year. In fact, it was the government that primarily benefited from the policy at the expense of smokers.

The pictorial warnings must be implemented well in order to put the anti-smoking campaign back on track. Some of pictures are gruesome. Public interest is already piqued.

But the details still need to be refined. Experts say the images should be placed on the top half of the front of the pack instead of the bottom half for greater effect. Countries that mandate graphic labels require them to go on the top half. Cigarette packs also should be more visible in stores. The warning image should take up a larger space. It currently is required to cover more than 50 percent of the front of the pack, but warning labels in Canada must take up 75 percent. In Australia they take up to 95 percent. Fine-tuning is definitely needed.

JoongAng Ilbo, Apr. 2, Page 26
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