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Last Updated: Monday, 8 September, 2003, 18:35 GMT 19:35 UK
EU gets graphic in anti-smoking battle

By Oana Lungescu
BBC, Brussels

The European Commission has begun to compile a library of shocking pictures that could deter smokers.

From October next year, EU countries will be allowed to use these pictures on cigarette packs.

From the end of this month, tobacco health warnings in the EU will be enlarged to cover almost 40% of the pack.

Diseased teeth from Canadian health warning
Canada is already using graphic warnings
According to the latest figures, one in three Europeans smokes, but the percentage of smokers is higher in the youngest age groups.

Latest statistics also show that lung cancer is the most common type of cancer among European men.

In an effort to find new ways to shock smokers out of the habit, the EU will be setting a database of graphic pictures illustrating the dangers of smoking. From 1 October next year, European countries will be able - though not obliged - to use some of those images on cigarette packs.


Brazil and Canada have already started to use graphic warnings against smoking, and Singapore may follow suit next year.

It's not the only measure, but it's one way to have less smokers in the first place
Thorsten Muench
European Commission spokesman
The pictures used in Canada include horrendous images of rotten teeth and gums, diseased lungs, but also indirect or ironic warnings.

An image of two children is captioned "don't poison us" while the warning "tobacco use can make you impotent" is accompanied by a suggestive picture of drooping ash on a burning cigarette.

Thorsten Muench, a spokesman for the European Commission, says a picture paints a thousand words.

"It's not necessarily a measure which will help the die-hard smokers to quit smoking, even if it's also foreseen to have quit-line numbers on the photo health warnings," he says.

"The main focus is really to stop people starting the habit in the first place and there are a lot of international studies which show that there is a certain effectiveness of this measure.

"It's not the only measure, but it's one way to have less smokers in the first place."

Belgian measures

The European Commissioner for health David Byrne, who is a staunch non-smoker, said the EU had to find innovative ways to illustrate the shocking truth that half of all smokers would be killed by their habit.

Husband and pregnant wife smoking
Byrne says many people do not understand the magnitude of the risk
Mr Byrne has been actively campaigning against tobacco advertising and sponsorship for the last four years.

His native Ireland is due to become the first country in the EU to introduce a controversial ban on smoking in pubs and restaurants.

Belgium is also planning to ban the sale of tobacco to under-16s and to outlaw smoking on school grounds, both by students and teachers.

Belgium - where twice as many young people smoke than they did last year - may also be among the first countries to use graphic warnings and to print free phone numbers on cigarette packs which smokers could use to get advice about stopping smoking.

And from 1 May next year, on the same day that 10 more countries join the EU, smoking will also be banned at the European Commission in Brussels.

Detailed warnings

But as early as the end of this month, health warnings on cigarette packs will be enlarged everywhere in the EU (covering at least 30% of the front and at least 40% of the back of the pack).

The new recommended texts won't just say that "tobacco is bad for you", but will include more detailed warnings, such as: "Smoking can cause a slow and painful death" or simply "smokers die younger".

Men will be told that "smoking may reduce the blood flow and causes impotence", while women will be warned that "smoking when pregnant harms your baby" and "causes ageing of the skin".

EU health commissioner David Byrne believes many people still smoke because they do not fully understand the magnitude of the risks posed by tobacco.

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