The U.N. health agency's call to action comes ahead of Sunday's World No Tobacco Day, which this year focuses on lowering tobacco use by increasing public awareness of its dangers, the WHO said Friday in a news release issued by the United Nations.
"Health warnings on tobacco packages are a simple, cheap and effective strategy that can vastly reduce tobacco use and save lives. But they only work if they communicate the risk," said WHO Assistant Director General Dr. Ala Alwan. "Warnings that include images of the harm that tobacco causes are particularly effective at communicating risk and motivating behavioral changes, such as quitting or reducing tobacco consumption."
Studies on the use of warnings with pictures and text in Brazil, Canada, Singapore and Thailand indicated "remarkably consistent" findings on their positive impact, WHO said. However, only 10 percent of the world's people live in countries requiring pictorial warnings on tobacco packaging.
"In order to survive, the tobacco industry needs to divert attention from the deadly effects of its products," said Dr. Douglas Bettcher, director of WHO's Tobacco Free Initiative. "Health warnings on tobacco packages can be a powerful tool to illuminate the stark reality of tobacco use."