Despite strong tobacco industry resistance, tobacco control advocates in Malaysia helped implement pictorial warning labels that exceed policy guidelines, a new report found.

The Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) recently released the report, Implementing Pictorial Health Warnings in Malaysia: Challenges and Lessons Learned, which highlights Malaysia’s experience with implementing pictorial warning labels on tobacco packs despite huge tobacco industry resistance.

Tobacco control advocates managed to mandate and implement pictorial warning labels that exceeded the minimum guidelines in Article 11 of the international treaty – the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). The FCTC states that pictorial warnings should cover at least 50 per cent of the package of a tobacco product, and must cover at least 30 per cent.

SEATCA’s report outlines the challenges and key lessons learned so tobacco control advocates working in other countries can learn from this experience.

Key challenges highlighted in the report are:

• Resistance from the tobacco industry.
• Limited human resources working on tobacco control issues.
• Lack of local evidence to build support for implementation
Key lessons learned and recommendations for effective tobacco control advocacy are:
• Advocate for a pictorial health warning law that includes clear specifications for the size, shape, and colour of the package, picture and text-based messages to avoid the tobacco industry taking advantage of loopholes in the law.
• Set a realistic implementation deadline that is no longer than one year after passage of the law.
• Be prepared to address industry arguments, which can include claims that pictorial health warnings violate international trade agreements and intellectual property rights.
• Limit tobacco industry consultations and negotiations to avoid compromises that would weaken the effectiveness of warning labels.
• Partner with researchers to produce local evidence that helps generate political will for implementation among policymakers and support from the media.
• Provide staff of government and non-government organizations training to build capacity to promote tobacco control policies with policymakers and the media, and to counter tobacco industry claims.
• Save time and money by taking advantage of resources and information available from other countries, such as picture images.
• Develop and communicate implementation guidelines that specify responsibilities for tobacco manufacturers, importers, suppliers and retailers in advance of the deadline.