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Turning up the voltage of smoking shock warnings

18 Sept. 2011

The campaign to shock ... new anti-smoking images to appear on tobacco packaging.

CONFRONTING images of a 34-year-old man dying from lung cancer and a premature baby struggling to breathe are among the new warnings that will cover the front of cigarette packs from next year.

Fifteen new pictures will replace the photographs that have been used since 2006 as the federal government steps up its campaign to reduce the number of smokers.

“The new graphic health warnings are a striking and confronting reminder of the death and disease that tobacco brings and are a proven, effective way of helping people to kick this deadly habit,” the Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, said.

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“Seeing the heartbreaking harm that can be caused to an unborn baby or the horrific effects of cancer is a shocking reminder that quitting smoking is one of the best things that someone can do to improve their health.”

A government committee recommended replacing the old pictures because they were becoming familiar and starting to lose their impact.

From July 1 next year the size of the pictures will more than double to 75 per cent of the front of a cigarette pack from the present 30 per cent.

The principal medical adviser for population health in the Department of Health, Dr Bernie Towler, said about 15,000 people a year died from the effects of smoking.

”We know graphic health warnings are effective,” Dr Towler said. ”People who think about quitting smoking are more likely to make attempts to quit smoking.”

Other images include a gangrenous foot, a man with a colostomy bag, mouth ulcers and a lung affected by emphysema.

Ms Roxon said she found the image of a premature baby particularly confronting.

”I think it’s pretty gross,” she said. ”If I was a smoker I think it would put me off. If my partner was a smoker I think it would make me step up my efforts to get him to stop.”

The government expects its controversial plain packaging laws to be passed by Parliament this week. Under the new laws, tobacco industry logos, brand imagery, colours and promotional text will be banned from 2012. The packaging background will be a drab brown colour, which research has found has the least appeal to smokers. Brand names will appear on the top, bottom and front of the pack in a standard colour, font and size.

The government has set a target of reducing the percentage of the population that smokes from 15 per cent to 10 per cent by 2018.

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