Benefit of graphic warningsAfter dithering for 14 years, the government has decided that graphic warning labels highlighting cancerous lesions and other health problems from smoking must go on cigarette packets sold in South Korea from Dec. 23. The presidential regulation reform committee announced the revision in the public health act that requires tobacco manufacturers to place graphic health warnings on the upper part of every pack of cigarettes, strengthening an earlier decision that gave the industry freedom to decide where the warnings will be placed.
The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control adopted by 192 United Nations members in 2003 recommends pictorial warning labels cover 50 percent or more of the tobacco pack. Starting with Canada in 2001, about 80 countries have been following the guideline.
The European Union will be the latest to adopt the policy. Pictorial health warnings on the top of all tobacco packets have been proven to be effective in making smokers break the habit and contributing to save lives as well as social costs. The campaign can work if the images are self-evident, clear and easily visible. It could also prevent non-smokers, especially teenagers, from starting in the first place.
Korea’s smoking rate remains amongst the highest in the world and smoking is one of the biggest threats to public health. Lives as well as public health costs can be saved without additional public financial resource if large and strong graphic warnings are on every pack.
Lowering smoking rates aids public health and the economy. According to preliminary government estimates, the country’s smoking rate among male adults slipped to 39.3 percent in 2015, the first drop below 40 percent.
Stronger TV advertising and a public anti-smoking campaign has worked. But more aggressive and sustainable campaigns must be carried out to bring the smoking rate below 30 percent by 2020 as hoped by the government. The pictorial warning should act as the impetus for a stronger anti-smoking campaign.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 14, Page 26