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In El Salvador, the Fondo Solidario para la Salud (FOSALUD), with support from The Union, has recently held a press conference to announce the results of two research studies, to help understand the processes by which consumers purchase tobacco and thereby strengthen tobacco control in El Salvador.

The first study explored how advertising and the display of cigarettes at the point-of-sale impacted on the consumer’s impulse to purchase. Findings demonstrated that the display of tobacco products is the principal promotional strategy adopted by retailers. It was found that 91 percent of retailers display cigarettes, and in most cases the display is positioned near to the selling point, or till. This, in turn, had a large impact on consumers’ impulse to purchase, with eight out of 10 smokers saying they had decided to purchase cigarettes at least once at the time of paying their bill because they saw those packages being displayed.

The study went on to demonstrate that, despite point-of-sale promotion, the population is strongly supportive of tobacco control. It was found that 92.3 percent thought that young people should not be exposed to advertisements of products deemed damaging to health, and eight out of 10 approved of the complete removal of point-of-sale display and advertising of tobacco products to discourage consumption amongst young people. Current legislation permits advertising and product display at the point-of-sale.

The second study analysed the impact of health warnings and plain packaging of tobacco products on public perceptions. The World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) supports plain packaging and stipulates that packaging carries health warnings describing the harmful effects of tobacco use. Evidence finds that plain packaging reduces the attractiveness of tobacco products; restricts use of the pack as a form of advertising; limits misleading packaging and increases the effectiveness of health warning. Studies have also shown that plain packaging increased an urgency among smokers to quit.

Findings in the FOSALUD study confirmed that health warning labels are effective in stimulating negative emotions and result in an increased number of people who have tried to stop smoking, particularly young people. Young people were also of the opinion that the use of colour had the potential to make the packaging less attractive, induce a sensation of fear, provide an association with a product of inferior quality, and make health-related imagery more visible. The project confirmed that neutral packaging would achieve its objective of reducing demand for tobacco products.

Verónica Villalta, FOSALUD’s Executive Director, stated that the findings from both projects provided the scientific evidence to drive the reform of tobacco control legislation. The case for investment in Tobacco Control in El Salvador, presented by FOSALUD last October, had already proposed specific actions to reduce tobacco consumption: to ban all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, and to update health warning imagery and introduce neutral packaging.

Mr. Gustavo Soñora, The Union’s Regional Director of Latin America, speaking at the press conference to launch the results of both studies said: “Hopefully, the scientific evidence from the studies by FOSALUD will support new tobacco control legislation, one based on the protection of health as a human right. I also hope to witness the benefits on people’s health of stricter controls in the near future. The sooner these controls are adopted and enforced the better off Salvadorians will be”.

In El Salvador during 2016, 1,624 people died as a consequence of using tobacco, 46 percent of these being classified as premature (when the person concerned was under 70 years). Seventy-eight percent of these deaths can be linked directly to tobacco consumption, with exposure to tobacco smoke making up the remaining 22 percent. It is estimated that in the same year, tobacco consumption cost the nation US$263.6m, which is equivalent to approximately 1 percent of GDP.

 

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