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Logo of bmjThis ArticleThe BMJ
BMJ. 2007 September 8; 335(7618): 468–469.
PMCID: PMC1971209

UK government to put graphic warnings on tobacco products

The United Kingdom will be the first country in the European Union to use graphic warnings on tobacco products. The announcement coincides with figures released by the Department of Health that show England has 97% compliance with the ban on smoking in enclosed public places, which was introduced on 1 July.

More than 88 000 inspections took place in the first two weeks of the smoking ban, including inspections of 1090 hotels, 6783 restaurants, and 9568 licensed premises. The local authority enforcement officers found that 97% of premises complied with banning smoking in enclosed spaces, and 79% displayed the correct signs. These figures are comparable to those for the first month of the smoking bans in Scotland and Ireland.

Dawn Primarolo, minister of state for public health, welcomed the statistics, “We predicted that it would be largely self enforcing based on experience elsewhere and the fact that three quarters of the British public supported the move.”

The department says that local authorities are continuing to work with local businesses to ensure that they understand the legal requirement to display “no smoking” signs at the entrance to all public buildings and workplaces.

Meanwhile, the health secretary, Alan Johnson, has said that he believes “picture warnings are the next vital step in reducing the number of people who smoke.” From autumn 2008 the packets of tobacco products in the UK will incorporate images that show the devastating effects tobacco can have on health.

“We hope this is a step towards the plain, generic packing of all tobacco products,” said Elspeth Lee, senior tobacco control manager at Cancer Research UK. “International evidence shows that graphic picture warnings lead to a greater awareness of the risks associated with smoking and help encourage people to cut down or quit altogether.”

A study published this year in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that large, comprehensive warnings are more likely to be noticed and rated as effective by smokers (2007;32:202-9).

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the UK, according to the Office for National Statistics. Robert West, of Cancer Research UK, estimated that between 5000 and 10 000 people would stop smoking as a result of the new adverts. This would save about 2500 lives a year, he added.

Market research and a public vote helped to choose the 15 images that will be used on tobacco products. The pictures can be seen at

Articles from The BMJ are provided here courtesy of BMJ Publishing Group