Call for cigarette-style warning on petrol pumps

Petrol pumps should carry health warnings similar to those found on cigarette packets, according to a group of medical experts.

The experts, including environmental health professors from the UK, US and India, argue that such warnings would be a cheap and effective way to make people aware of the impact of fossil fuels on the climate and encourage them to cut their reliance on the fuels.

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Writing in the British Medical Journal, the group says that the warnings should be displayed at points of purchase, such as fuel pumps, as well as on energy bills and airline tickets. They believe that such warnings, including graphic images of the effect of pollution could help make fossil fuel use less socially acceptable.

They wrote: "Warning labels connect the abstract threat of the climate emergency with the use of fossil fuels in the here and now.

“They sensitise people to the consequences of their actions, representing nudges designed to encourage users to choose alternatives to fossil fuels, thus increasing demand for zero-carbon renewable energy.”

Graphic warnings

Dr Mike Gill, a former regional director of public health who led the group responsible for the report, said that the warnings could be as graphic as those used on cigarette packages.

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He told the Guardian that the warnings needed to be “arresting” to have an impact and should included images that relate directly to the effects that impact on people’s health, such as lungs damaged by air pollution or the effect of severe weather, such as flooding or bodies of people who have died in heatwaves.

The experts argue that similar stark warnings on cigarette packaging have helped make the habit less socially acceptable as well as highlighting its health impacts.

The group also wants to see tougher restrictions on fossil fuel company advertising, particularly around claims of investment in renewable energy.

It also called for the UK Government to show global leadership ahead of the Cop26 climate conference in Glasgow this year.

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"There is an opportunity for national and local governments to implement labelling of fossil fuels in the run-up to Cop26 in Glasgow and in particular for the UK Government, as the host of the Cop, to show leadership, as part of a package of measures to accelerate progress on getting to 'net zero' emissions,” the experts wrote.

"When the Covid -19 pandemic eventually wanes labelling could play an important role in helping to reduce the risk of a rapid rebound in greenhouse gas emissions as the economy expands.”