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One of the world's smallest countries, Nepal, has taken a large step toward combating tobacco-related disease this week. Ninety percent of the surface area of all tobacco packaging must now be covered with harrowing images designed to warn consumers of the health consequences of tobacco use. The new law is the most stringent of any country, surpassing that passed by India three weeks ago, which requires 85% coverage.


Graphic warnings are a proven deterrent to potential smokers and encourage users to quit. Nepal's series of images depict mouth cancer, deformed foetuses and other documented consequences of tobacco use. They are a powerful tool for tobacco control, reaching whole populations, including those with low literacy rates and young people.

'Nepal has taken a strong step to protect the health of its citizens,' said Dr Tara Singh Bam, The Union's technical advisor on tobacco control for Nepal. 'Smokers are often unaware of the specific harms caused by tobacco use and can underestimate the risks to themselves and those around them.'

The Union has been assisting the Nepalese MoHP to develop and implement its tobacco control strategy since 2009. In 2011 the Tobacco Control and Regulatory Act was introduced – a strong raft of measures based on the World Health Organization's MPOWER programme to reduce tobacco use.

The stronger legislation comes less than a year after Nepal's Supreme Court quashed an appeal from the tobacco industry against legislation requiring 75% graphic health warnings. The industry argued unsuccessfully that Nepal's law was far more stringent than rules in neighbouring countries, including China where warnings covered less than half the packet surface area.

Graphic health warnings are a popular tobacco control measure with governments, as the cost burden for implementation is largely borne by the tobacco industry which must print the new packets.

The tobacco industry has six months to implement the new measures, which must be in force by 15 May 2015. Apart from Australia's plain packaging, tobacco products in Nepal will then carry the strongest warnings in the world about its harms to health.

 

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