RIYADH: Saudi Arabia and all other member states of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are on course to become the latest to require the use of graphic warning labels on every cigarette packet brought into their territories.
Some of the pre-selected photos from the World Health Organization (WHO) explaining the health hazards pictorially will be published onto cigarette packets coming into the Kingdom and the other Gulf states within a few weeks from now.
“The graphics on tobacco products will warn the users about the perils of smoking more strongly,” said Tawfik Khoja, director general of the Executive Board of the Health Ministers’ Council for the GCC states, here Thursday.
The new packaging, he said, will be introduced across the GCC in an effort to stop young smokers from becoming addicts, said Khoja. The plan is very important keeping in view the fact that about 22,000 people in the Kingdom die every year due to smoking-related diseases, according to the available statistics.
The number of such deaths is alarmingly high in the GCC. “Smoking is a serious problem that must be addressed on priority basis”, said Khoja. He further said: “If we look at the magnitude of this problem and its detrimental effects on health, society and economy, rapidly growing number of smokers of different ages who squander their money on smoking and the increasing rate of diseases caused by smoking, we will realize that it is important for all civil organizations to join forces to combat tobacco.”
He called on the young smokers to start to think about the dangers of smoking and either stop or cut down the number of cigarettes they are smoking. “We are committed to implementing the decision to put the graphics as per the plan endorsed by the expert GCC committees, and we are also mulling further measures to discourage smoking in the Gulf states,” said Khoja.
Asked whether the governments in the GCC member countries will go ahead with the implementation to publish the graphics explaining the dangers of smoking on cigarette packets, Khoja said that “the Gulf governments will go ahead despite pressure from lobbies representing tobacco companies to delay or cancel the GCC decision.”
Moreover, the GCC still hopes to introduce an increased percentage of tax on tobacco products, added Khoja.
Asked about the graphics that have been selected by the WHO for printing on cigarette packs, he said that cigarette manufacturers are required to add graphic images, such as damaged lungs or infected jaws, on cigarette packets to warn consumers about the hazards of smoking. Images should be used along with written warnings and should be big enough to cover at least 30 percent of the space on the packet.
According to estimates, 4 million people in the GCC smoke more than 50 billion cigarettes a year. Several countries including Brazil, Britain, Canada, India, Iran, Mexico, New Zealand, Pakistan, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand have imposed the pictorial warnings. However, a plan by the US to require images on cigarette packs starting Sept. 22 was defeated after a court on Friday ruled that the planned images went beyond “pure attempts to convey information to consumers.”
“They are unabashed attempts to evoke emotion (and perhaps embarrassment) and browbeat consumers into quitting,” the US Court of Appeals in Washington said. Tobacco companies took the US Food and Drug Administration to court on the grounds that the cigarette labels violated the First Amendment of the US Constitution. US officials said that around 450,000 Americans die each year from smoking-related causes, costing the US economy $ 200 billion annually in medical expenses and lost productivity.
In Australia, however, the Australian High Court has rejected a challenge by multinational tobacco companies against the government’s tobacco plain packaging legislation. Under the new law, “cigarettes and other tobacco products sold in Australia after Dec. 1 must be in drab olive/brown packaging with no brand logos or colorful designs. Brand names will be restricted to small, generic type. The packaging will also include large health warnings and may include disturbing graphics depicting the ill-health effects of smoking.

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