Graphic warnings show Filipinos tobacco’s deadly harm

Global public health experts Vital Strategies, formerly known as World Lung Foundation, today congratulated the Government of the Philippines, hailing the Graphic Health Warnings Law (Republic Act 10643) which comes into force today as a “victory for the health of Filipinos.”

Tobacco companies now must put large graphic warnings, consisting of powerful, real-life images of tobacco-related disease, on 50 percent of the front and back of tobacco packs. Prior to the new law, tobacco packaging in the Philippines only had to include a textual health warning label, covering just 30 percent of the front of the pack.

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Sandra Mullin, Vital Strategies’ Senior Vice President, Policy, Advocacy and Communication, said, “Tobacco is estimated to cause the death of eight Filipinos every hour, yet many are not aware of the true extent and type of harm caused by tobacco and exposure to secondhand smoke. The use of hard-hitting images of tobacco-related disease on tobacco packaging is proven to be highly successful in raising awareness of these harms, discouraging youth from initiating smoking and encouraging smokers to cut down and quit. The Department of Health’s initiative to implement these warnings is a real victory for the health of Filipinos and a welcome tactic in the fight against non-communicable disease.”

Graphic Warnings Sustain Impact of Anti-Tobacco Campaigns

Vital Strategies has considerable global expertise in the design and implementation of highly effective warning labels and anti-tobacco campaigns. It supported the Philippines’ Department of Health’s national anti-tobacco mass media campaign, called “Cigarettes Are Eating You Alive!” Launched in August 2015, the campaign consisted of 15- and 30-second Public Service Announcements (PSAs) that aired on national television. The PSAs graphically showed that smoking causes damage to nearly every vital organ and tissue of the body.

Mullin said, “Graphic warnings will have a powerful impact on sustaining the impact of the “Cigarettes Are Eating You Alive” campaign and increasing knowledge about the deadly harms of tobacco use. Alongside high tobacco taxes and other strong tobacco control policies, these interventions will encourage more Filipinos to cut down and quit – bringing the Philippines real health and economic benefits.”

The Burden Of Tobacco Use In The Philippines

The Department of Health (DOH) has identified tobacco as the primary risk factor in the Philippines for a range of non-communicable diseases. This costs the Philippines’ economy more than USD3.95 billion (Php188 billion) (Dans et al., 2012) in health care costs and productivity losses.

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The Tobacco Atlas notes that 40 percent of men and 8.2 percent of women in the Philippines smoke tobacco. Tobacco-related cases account for 19.6 percent of adult male deaths and 9.4 percent of adult female deaths – higher than the average in other middle-income countries. It is estimated that more than 71,850 Filipinos – eight people every hour – are killed by tobacco-related diseases every year. The Philippine Cancer Society estimates that around 3,000 non-smoking adult Filipinos die every year of lung cancer as a result of inhaling second-hand smoke.

Graphic warnings on tobacco packaging and anti-tobacco mass media campaigns both are among the World Health Organization’s MPOWER (W=WARN) strategies to reduce tobacco consumption. MPOWER strategies are endorsed and promoted by the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use, of which Vital Strategies is a principal partner. In the Philippines, these strategies are implemented under the leadership of the Department of Health.