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Australia’s new plain packaging ‘makes cigarettes taste worse’

Australia’s new plain packaging ‘makes cigarettes taste worse’

Australia’s new plain packaging for cigarettes – which becomes mandatory from Saturday – have been branded “disgusting” by smokers who say they make the cigarettes taste worse.

By Jonathan Pearlman, Sydney

6:43AM GMT 30 Nov 2012

The new packets, which are blank aside from gruesome health warnings, have been filling shelves for the past two months as part of the toughest anti-tobacco measures in the world.

Despite legal battles and claims of “dirty tricks” by tobacco companies, all cigarettes in Australia must now be sold in drab olive packets featuring macabre images of sick babies, dying cancer sufferers and diseased feet, eyeballs and lungs. Smokers’ advice groups have reported being inundated with calls from angry smokers who say their cigarettes now taste “pathetic” and “sickening”.

Joe Xia, who owns a busy convenience store just outside Sydney’s Chinatown, said the packets are “disgusting” and have been annoying customers who dislike the new warnings.

“People still smoke – now they also complain,” he told the Daily Telegraph.

“Nothing will stop them from smoking. But it is hard at night-time. People come from the pub and they see these packets and they get irritated.”

The claims that the taste of cigarettes has worsened prompted tobacco firms to deny the product has changed.

A spokesman for Imperial Tobacco Australia, said people who smoked its cigarettes “can be assured that our high quality products will remain the same”.

“Packaging has never been identified as the reason people choose or continue to smoke,” she said.

The measures, if successful, are tipped to trigger an “olive revolution”, with similar laws being considered in Britain, Canada, New Zealand, China, France, India, South Africa, Norway and Uruguay.

But tobacco firms have fought hard to try to combat the changes, including pursuing various legal actions and declaring the new measures will increase the black market.

The Gillard Government has staved off a High Court challenge and accused the firms of using various tricks to try to flout the laws.

The health minister, Tanya Plibersek, said two manufacturers had tried to make the cigarettes appear more “sophisticated” by stamping the paper with watermarks featuring travel destination codes such as AUS, LDN and NYC. The firms have reportedly agreed to remove the watermarking.

Health experts believe the changes will help to save lives and reduce smoking rates. Studies have shown people, particularly youths, are less likely to take up smoking when the packets are not shiny or colourful.

Professor Simon Chapman, from the University of Sydney, said the packets were designed to prevent smoking among future generations who will never have seen “lovely packaging”. He has called for further measures, including requiring smokers to be issued with licences which would cost an annual fee and restrict people to 50 cigarettes every two weeks.

But the new packets have confused shopkeepers who can barely find the small writing on the packets to distinguish between different brands.

Othman Moussa, who has run a tobacconist in Sydney’s Darling Harbour for 24 years, said he knows the layout of his cigarettes shelf and can still find specific packets. But he says if he takes on new staff “it will be a real mess”.

“The main problem for me now is that it is very hard to sort out the deliveries,” he told the Daily Telegraph. “It takes three or four hours to read each brand and separate them – it used to take ten minutes.”

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