In the first study to address cigarette packaging in low/middle-income country, researchers found that regulations mandated by the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in Guatemala have not been fulfilled. It is well known that tobacco companies utilize their packaging as a way to market to current and potential consumers. The packaging size, color, and shape are chosen specifically for target audiences as a way to increase sales. This is true of both the legal and illegal cigarette market in Guatemala.
However, the study published in Global Health, found that both legal and illegal cigarette packs did not meet the FCTC labeling requirements. According to the FCTC, no less than 30% of the package must include warning labels or photos with at least one of five approved warning messages. Joaquin Barnoya, MD, MPH, senior author of the paper and associate professor of surgery at Washington University School of Medicine, was not surprised by his findings.
“As mandated in the FCTC, warning labels are an effective strategy to decrease cigarette demand and can increase the odds of a smoker to quit,” Barnoya said. “Unfortunately, due to a weak political support, Guatemala has not been able to implement warning labels that comply with the FCTC. In addition, illegal cigarettes are readily available, even cheaper than legal ones, and lack effective warning labels.”
100% of legal cigarette packs did not cover at least 30% of the cigarette packaging with warning labels, and warning labels were only text-based on one side. Separately, illegal cigarette packs had fewer warnings and included text instead of photos. In this study, both legal and illegal cigarette packs violated the FCTC guidelines.
Barnoya, who is interested in smoking cessation rates as part of his research, advocates immediate action is needed to help reduce smoking in Guatemala. In low/income countries, literacy rates are lower making it hard for consumers to understand the health implications of smoking.
“More than a scientific issue, the tobacco epidemic is now a political one,” said Barnoya. “We need to gather data to support FCTC implementation but also share our findings with healthcare advocates and policy makers to support FCTC implementation.”