In addition to serving as a marketing vehicle for the tobacco industry, cigarette packages also provide governments with a direct means of communicating with smokers. Warning labels are primarily intended to communicate the health risks of smoking and to fulfill the government’s regulatory responsibility to warn consumers about hazardous products.
Tobacco packages are an excellent medium for providing health information given their reach and frequency of exposure. Package health warnings are also unique among tobacco control initiatives in that they are delivered at the time of smoking and at the point of sale. As a result, health warnings on cigarette packages are among the most prominent sources of health information for smokers: smokers in countries with comprehensive health warnings are more likely to report getting information about the risks of smoking from packages than from any other source except television. Findings from Canada, Thailand, and elsewhere also indicate that considerable proportions of non-smokers report awareness and knowledge of package health warnings.
At present, cigarette packages in the vast majority of countries carry a health warning. However, the position, size, and general strength of these warnings vary considerably across jurisdictions. At least 37 countries and jurisdictions have implemented pictorial health warnings or have passed regulations requiring their implementation in the near future. Currently, four out of the 10 ASEAN countries have implemented pictorial warnings; Singapore was among the first countries in the world to implement pictorial health warnings on tobacco packages in 2004 and has since been followed by Thailand (2005), Brunei (2008) and Malaysia (2009).