Questions and answers on tobacco health warnings
European Commission - MEMO/09/253 28/05/2009
Other available languages: none
Brussels, 28 May 2009
Questions and answers on tobacco health warnings
What is the purpose of putting health warnings on tobacco packages?
The overall aim is to help reduce tobacco-related death, disease and suffering in the European Union.
M any smokers and potential smokers ignore or underestimate the health risks associated with tobacco use. Health warnings on tobacco packages are an excellent tool to inform the public of the deadly consequences of tobacco use and exposure to second-hand smoke. Studies demonstrate that the majority of smokers want to stop smoking. Health warnings are designed to encourage and support smokers in their attempts to quit. The warnings are also intended to reach non-smokers, including children and young people, to discourage smoking uptake.
What are the EU rules on health warnings?
The first EU-wide requirements for tobacco labelling were introduced in the early nineties. The Tobacco Products Directive of 2001 introduced new, stronger health messages for tobacco packages and significantly increased the size of the warnings. All tobacco products intended to be smoked must carry one of two general health warnings ("Smoking Kills"/"Smoking can kill" or "Smoking seriously harms you and others around you") covering at least 30-35% of the front. One of fourteen additional warnings must cover at least 40-50% of the back of the package.
The Directive allows Member States to mandate additional warnings in the form of colour pictures. In May 2005, the Commission adopted a library of 42 pictures, three images for each of the 14 additional health warnings. This provides Member States with the choice of which image would best suit their population.
What has been the impact of the warnings ?
In July 2005, the Commission published its First Report on the application of the Directive. The report concluded that the large r health warnings motivate smokers to give up and they make tobacco packets less attractive to young people. The latest Euro-barometer on Tobacco shows that 3 out of 10 EU citizens think that health warnings are effective in informing them about the negative health effects of tobacco. Three out of 10 non-smokers claim that health warnings prevent them from smoking and around 20% of smokers think the warnings encourage them to smoke less or to quit.
Which countries make use of pictorial health warnings?
Belgium was the first EU Member State to introduce pictorial warnings on cigarette pack ages in November 2006. Romania followed suit in July 2008 and the UK in October 2008. Latvia has recently adopted legislation to require the use of pictorial warnings from March 2010. France, Hungary, Ireland, Malta, Poland and Spain also plan to introduce pictorial health warnings in the near future.
The Commission strongly encourages all Member States to make use of the pictorial warnings. This is a cost-effective way to strengthen the impact of warning messages and to deglamorise tobacco use in society.
Are pictorial warnings more effective than text-only warnings?
Yes. There is clear evidence that pictorial warnings are more powerful in informing and educating the public about the health risks of tobacco and encouraging people to give up smoking. Pictures help consumers to visualise the nature of tobacco related diseases and convey health messages in a clearer and more vivid way. Picture warnings are especially important in targeting the most susceptible to taking up smoking - children and adolescents.
In Belgium, one i n four smokers think that the picture warnings make the tobacco packages less attractive and have discussed them with friends or family members. One in three feels that the images act as an additional incentive to quit smoking. The warnings are particularly effective among young people and smokers that would like to quit smoking. The latest Euro-barometer on tobacco shows that more than half (55%) of EU citizens believe that adding a colour picture to a text-only warning strengthens the message.
What are the pictures in the EU library and how have they been developed?
The pictures were developed by a communications company and then pre-tested in Member States by a market research company. The images in the library illustrate the devastating health, social and aesthetic consequences of tobacco use and the opportunities to quit. While most of the pictures are intended to have universal effect, some of them are tailored to specific target groups such as young males (impotence), pregnant women (harm to foetus) or potential parents (infertility).
These are some of the pictures:
The full library is available at:
What are the developments at international level?
In November 2008, The Third Conference of the Parties to the Framework Convention for Tobacco Control (FCTC) adopted comprehensive guidelines to assist Parties in meeting their obligations under the Convention and to increase the effectiveness of their packaging and labelling measures. Among other things, the guidelines recommend the use of pictorial health warnings. As a partner of the international working group, The Commission gave important input into these guidelines.
Who owns the copyright to the pictures? Can other countries use the EU library?
The Commission has copyrights to the pictorial warnings and has given several countries outside the European Union the right to use the pictures free of charge. Following the adoption of the FCTC guidelines, the Commission has concluded an administrative arrangement with the FCTC Secretariat which facilitates the conclusion of license agreements with third countries interested in using EC pictures.
Journalists can use the pictures when reporting on tobacco control Reproduction is authorised provided the source is acknowledged: © European Community.
What will be the next steps?
While the current health warnings are gaining prominence, evidence suggests that the effectiveness of warnings tends to decrease over time as the novelty effect wears off. Periodic updates will enhance the impact of the warnings and will take account of new scientific developments. For this reason, the Commission has initiated work to renew the current health messages and their graphic representation. It is expected that a new list of textual and pictorial warnings could be adopted in the second half of 2010. A transition period would be provided to Member States to comply with the new requirements.
Where can I find out more?
More information can be found on the Commission's Health and Consumers website, which includes a special section on tobacco: