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Uruguay Becomes First Country in Latin America to Implemented Plain Tobacco Packaging

(New York, USA) – Uruguay has again shown its regional and global leadership in tobacco control by becoming the first county in Latin America to implement plain standardized packaging for tobacco products.

The decision reflects Uruguay’s commitment to reduce the burden of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), also seen in their decision to act as co-facilitator of the September 2018 UN High Level Meeting on NCDs. While other countries are failing to commit to specific policies – including WHO’s “best buys” to reduce NCDs – and corporate players are lobbying against these policies, Uruguay is continuing to set an example for others to follow.

In a presidential decree on August 6th, President Tabaré Vázquez of Uruguay mandated that brands, logos and promotional elements are not permitted on the inside or outside of cigarette packs, which must continue to feature graphic health warnings covering 80 percent of the main surface areas. Going forward, tobacco products must be sold in brown colored packaging using a standardized design and font. This decree marks Uruguay’s commitment to implement policies that are proven to reduce tobacco use, which has seen smoking rates fall from 40% in 2006 (among the highest in Latin America), to 25% in 2009, and 21.6% in 2017, according to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS).

“President Tabaré Vázquez is an outstanding champion for health, particularly in the fight against non-communicable diseases,” said José Luis Castro, President and Chief Executive Officer of public health organization Vital Strategies. “Pack design and branding is a powerful tool that helps the industry sell its dangerous products to children. As such, the industry is strongly opposed to plain packaging, going so far as to mislead the public and policymakers and threaten governments with futile legal actions against these measures. We applaud President Vázquez for his leadership in the face of industry intimidation, and his focus on implementing evidence-based policies that help save lives.”

There is growing global momentum on the issue of plain packaging, which alongside other proven health interventions – like high tobacco taxes and comprehensive smoke-free laws – can reduce the seven million deaths related to tobacco each year.

Australia was the first country to adopt the policy, which focuses the smoker’s attention on warning messages about tobacco’s real harms and is an effective tobacco control measure – which is why the industry is so desperate to prevent it. A post-implementation review found that plain packaging alone was responsible for a quarter of the reduction in smoking prevalence in Australia between December 2012 and September 2015. Other studies found that the introduction of plain packaging led to a 78% increase in the number of calls to the Quitline. 31% of teens who had experimented with tobacco were less likely to do so again and 41% of teen smokers had thought about or tried to quit because of plain packaging. Australia has faced several legal challenges to the policy, culminating in a World Trade Organization ruling in June, which upheld Australia’s right to implement plain packaging.

Other countries that have followed Australia in implementing­­­-or legislating to implement-plain packaging include Canada, France, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Slovenia and the UK. It also is under consideration in Thailand, Singapore, Belgium, Romania, Chile, Turkey, Taiwan, Jersey, Guernsey, Georgia, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Finland, and South Africa.

Uruguay was the first country to adopt graphic warning images covering 80% of the two principal surfaces of tobacco packaging, setting a precedent now adopted by Australia, India, Nepal, Sir Lanka, Thailand and Vanuatu. It also legislated to restrict tobacco marketing, ban misleading terms like “light” and “low tar” and to ensure that each tobacco brand can have only one presentation, so consumers are not misled into thinking that some brand variations are less harmful than others. In response to these positive health policies, Uruguay was subjected to lengthy and ultimately unsuccessful litigation by Philip Morris International.

About Vital Strategies

Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by a strong public health system. Our team combines evidence-based strategies with innovation to help develop and implement sound public health policies, manage programs efficiently, strengthen data systems, conduct research, and design strategic communication campaigns for policy and behavior change. To find out more, please visit www.vitalstrategies.org or Twitter @VitalStrat.

For further information or to arrange an interview with a Vital Strategies public health and tobacco control expert, please contact press@vitalstrategies.org