MANILA, 8 July 2011-The World Health Organization (WHO) has urged countries in the Western Pacific Region to make a greater effort to have graphic health warnings placed on cigarette packs to convince smokers to quit and to discourage young people from taking up the habit.

In a statement marking the release of the latest WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO's Regional Director for the Western Pacific, said: "People have a fundamental right to information about the harm that tobacco does. And countries have an obligation to provide it."

Speaking at the launch of the report in Montevideo, Uruguay, Dr Douglas Bettcher, Director of WHO's Tobacco Free Initiative, said that "graphic health warnings are an effective way of reducing tobacco's appeal." He added that "WHO also stands ready to help countries resist the tobacco industry's unprincipled attempts to eliminate these important protections."

The WHO report examines the status of tobacco control in more than 170 countries that have ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Latest statistics from WHO show that tobacco use kills 6 million people each year, and that 600,000 of these deaths are from exposure to second-hand smoke.

Dr Shin commented: "While there has been remarkable progress in tobacco control, many developing countries need to exert more effort to immediately protect people from tobacco use and exposure to second-hand smoke."

Of the 19 countries or areas in the world that have implemented graphic health warnings, eight are in the Western Pacific Region. These are Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Hong Kong (China), Cook Islands, Malaysia, Mongolia, New Zealand and Singapore. "These countries have done a remarkable job in empowering people to quit through graphic health warnings," said Dr Shin, "but they represent fewer than 4% of the 1.8 billion people who live in Asia and the Pacific."

Asia and the Pacific have more than an estimated 480 million smokers. They have the world's fastest growth of smoking uptake among women."

Dr Shin praised Australian Minister of Health and Ageing, Nicola Roxon, for her "bold and tireless" efforts to pass legislation on plain packaging in Australia. "The Australian government is to be commended for setting a new bar for tobacco control not only for the region but for the whole world," he said.

Plain packaging eliminating design features and brand names that make tobacco products attractive, is one of the recommendations of the Guidelines of Article 13 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

Apart from graphic health warnings, the Global Tobacco Control Report emphasizes the importance of comprehensive bans on advertising, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco products. This includes elimination of point-of-sale promotional items such as ashtrays, napkin holders or outdoor umbrellas. The use of tobacco brands on products such as clothing, toys, ballpens, caps or bags should also be banned.