Monday, June 9, 2014

Statement on Graphic Health Warnings for Tobacco Products

As medical students, we encounter literally hundreds and thousands of patients who suffer the ill-effects of smoking. Four days ago, when the legislation on the inclusion of graphic pictures on cigarette packs was approved, we could not be any happier for this is a milestone in our advocacy towards uplifting the health of our fellow Filipinos.

Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of mortality in the world today, responsible for more than five million deaths each year—one in ten adults worldwide.

WHO’s package of MPOWER strategies to reduce tobacco consumption and are detailed in Article 12 of the international tobacco control treaty known as the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), compelling the Philippine government as signatory to implement the same measures

Size and location makes a difference. Health warnings and messages on tobacco product packaging and labeling should be about 50% of the principal display areas. Graphic Health Warnings (GHW), particularly pictorial health warnings, has the most impact on smokers and nonsmokers based on the best available science and real world experience. GHWs work better than text only labels among people with both high and low health literacy.

GHWs inform smokers about the health hazards of smoking, encourage smokers to quit, and prevent nonsmokers from starting to smoke. Warning labels on tobacco products are an ideal way of communicating with smokers. Since the intervention is delivered at the time of smoking, nearly all smokers are exposed to warning labels and pack-a-day smokers could be exposed to the warnings more than 7,000 times per year. Given the reach and frequency of exposure, warning labels have the potential to have a significant impact on smoking behavior. Furthermore, two-thirds of all smokers indicate that the package is an important source of health information and health knowledge is strongly associated with intent to quit smoking.

In addition, GHWs decrease the attractiveness and appeal of cigarettes and help to create an environment where non-smoking is the norm. It also counters the alluring and persuasive images the  tobacco industry uses to market their products. At least 63 countries have implemented GHWs on cigarette packs. Sadly, the Philippines is not included in this list. In ASEAN, Myanmar and Philippines remain the only countries who do not implement this measure.

Even though tobacco products are legally available to adults, the paramount public health aim is to reduce the number of people who use and become addicted to these products. The Asian Medical Students’ Association Philippines (AMSA Philippines) asserts that the current warnings are inadequate and when measured against an informed choice standard, are woefully deficient in terms of proper public health criteria. We push for the adoption of a legislation which will ensure that the most effective warnings will reach across all target audience in the Philippines.

The government is first and foremost FOR the people. Hence, provisions must be ensured to be in favor of the public’s good, not the profit of the tobacco industry.

We hereby appeal to the legislators to fight for the rights of our people and to reject the tobacco industry’s unreasonable proposals for small warnings.

We, the future healthcare providers, put our good faith in you to support this bill and not be deterred by the sways of the tobacco industry up to the point of this law’s adoption and implementation.


A PDF file of the statement can be downloaded from

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