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WHO says tobacco 'plain packaging' helps cut smoking rates

The UN's health agency has announced that "plain packaging" for tobacco products has a clear impact on smokers's behavior. Several countries, including New Zealand and Norway, have also pledged to ditch pack logos.

The World Health Organization's (WHO) latest report found that

"plain packaging"

can help save lives and curb smoking when combined with health warnings and advertising restrictions, the organization announced on Tuesday.

The 86-page report calls for the world to "Get ready for plain packaging" and was released to coincide with World No Tobacco Day 2016 on Tuesday.

Plain, or standardized, packaging leaves cigarette packs devoid of logos, colors and brand images.

"Plain packaging reduces the attractiveness of tobacco products. It kills the glamour, which is appropriate for a product that kills people," said WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan.

"It restricts tobacco advertising and promotion. It limits misleading packaging and labeling. And it increases the effectiveness of health warnings," she added.

According to WHO, every six seconds, one person dies from a tobacco-caused disease totaling nearly six million people each year - a figure which is expected to rise to more than eight million by 2030.

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Tighter EU rules for tobacco packaging

Australian success

Data from Australia - the first country to

introduce the new packaging rules in 2012

- served as the basis for WHO's report.

Australia's measure had a clear impact on reducing the number of habitual smokers in the country, said the report.

Although smoking in Australia has been on the decline for the past few years, the health organization said a significant portion of the decreasing rates was linked to the new packaging law.

Between December 2012 - when the law was introduced along with enlarged health warnings - and September 2015, WHO said there was an additional 0.55 percentage point drop in smoking, thanks to the plain pack designs.

Those numbers equate to "more than 108,000 people quitting, not relapsing or not starting to smoke during that period," said the report, citing Australian statistics.

Countries back plain packs

On Tuesday, New Zealand said it would move forward with plans to force tobacco companies to remove logos and

enlarge graphic health warnings.

The Norwegian government also announced similar plans - requiring tobacco packs to have the same dark-green color with the same font.

"Plans by New Zealand and Norway to introduce plain packaging to reduce demand for tobacco send a powerful signal that this initiative works," Oleg Chestnov, WHO Assistant Director-General for non-communicable diseases told news agency AFP.

The packs are also being introduced in Britain and France. They are intentionally ugly, and unappealing. Packages are covered with large, grotesque health warnings and no promotional information.

rs/jm (AP, AFP)

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