COSH’s response to the enlargement of pictorial health warnings proposed by the Government
2017.04.24The Government briefed the legislative proposals to strengthen tobacco control in May 2015, including enlarging the size of pictorial health warning to at least 85% of the two largest surfaces of the packet and of the retail container, increasing the number of forms of health warning from six to twelve and adding quitline 1833 183. The proposal was published in the Gazette on 21 April 2017. Subject to approval by the Legislative Council, the proposed measures will come into operation on 21 October 2017, and provide another six months for adaptation that ends on 20 April 2018. Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health (“COSH”) welcomed the legislation of the measures after 2-year discussion. COSH Chairman, Mr Antonio KWONG expressed, “COSH supports the Government’s proposal on enlarging the pictorial health warnings to cover 85% of the packets in order to reduce the attractiveness of smoking, increase intention to quit and deter youth from smoking.”
The existing six forms of pictorial health warnings covering at least 50% of cigarette pack area have been used since 2007 and their deterring effect has faded. In recent years, many countries have successfully introduced more stringent measures to regulate tobacco packaging and curb the tobacco epidemic. Prof Geoffrey T. Fong, Chief Principal Investigator of the International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Project (ITC Project) claimed, “In 2007, Hong Kong became one of the first jurisdictions in Asia to implement pictorial health warnings on tobacco packaging. Of the 12 jurisdictions that had introduced pictorial health warnings by 2007, Hong Kong is the only one that has not revised its warnings. Thailand has revised its graphic warnings 3 times; Panama has revised theirs 6 times.”
ITC studies showed that larger warnings have greater impact in motivating smoking cessation and educating the harms of tobacco. The ITC study of the Uruguay warning labels found that the increase in warning size from 50% to 80% of cigarette packs was associated with a significant increase in smokers’ notice to the health warnings, association between smoking and its hazards as well as quit intention. Canada increased the warning size from 50% to 75% of the pack, the number of smokers reporting that the warnings made them think about the health risks of smoking and about quitting doubled. The effectiveness of the measures in other countries has provided strong evidence and urgency for such approach in Hong Kong.
COSH urges the Government and policy-makers to place the public health policy in top priority to the commercial considerations so as to safeguard public health. COSH envisions the new pictorial health warnings, in phase with comprehensive tobacco control policy, will further decrease the smoking prevalence in Hong Kong.