Australia will have some of the most graphic tobacco health warnings in the world

Australia will have some of the most graphic tobacco health warnings in the world on cigarette packets with announcement of new measures to reduce the incidence of smoking.

Explicit graphic warnings on cigarette packs and other tobacco products will be introduced as part of the Australian Government’s commitment to improving the health of all Australians by alerting consumers to the dangers of smoking.

Tobacco smoking is the single largest preventable cause of death and disability in Australia. It kills more than 19,000 people a year and costs the Australian community around $21 billion in social costs per year.

“Cabinet has agreed to graphic warnings in colour and text warnings that will occupy 30 per cent of the front and 90 per cent of the back of cigarette packets. Tobacco companies must introduce the new packaging within 18 months of the regulations being gazetted,” Tony Abbott said.

“This means that a total of 60% of the primary surface areas of cigarette packets will be taken up by health warnings. One side of the packaging will also have printed health warnings.

The total surface area taken up by the warnings will be much greater, and the graphic images will be bigger than under the alternative proposal. For example, on the back of the packs, the graphic images take up a large proportion of the space, whereas the 50/50 option had no graphic images on the back. On the front of the pack, the graphic images are only marginally smaller.

The new requirements will ensure consumers are fully informed of the wide range of adverse health effects caused by tobacco smoking. Prominent placement and hard-hitting graphic information should make the health warnings more personally relevant to consumers and more easily understood.

“There will be a new rotation system for the health warnings, involving the use of seven messages in the first year of the health warnings. Then these messages will be replaced by another seven messages in the second year,” Parliamentary Secretary for Health, Trish Worth, said.

“A new set of 14 health warnings comprising graphic images and explanatory messages will provide updated information on a range of adverse health effects of smoking, for example, ‘Smoking causes mouth and throat cancer’, ‘Smoking causes peripheral vascular disease’ and ‘Smoking causes blindness’. The more familiar warnings such as ‘Smoking kills’ and ‘Smoking causes lung cancer and emphysema’ will also be included and should be given new impetus by the accompanying graphics.

“There will be a phase-in period of 18 months from the date of gazettal of the regulations. During this time suppliers may choose to meet either the current or new requirements.”

The Australian Government recognises the importance of introducing these warnings at the earliest possible opportunity. However, tobacco suppliers may have to purchase dedicated new equipment and to establish new production facilities or source new complying products from overseas. Therefore, they will be provided time to do so.

Upgraded regulations will lead to the requirement for statements on the tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide yields to be replaced with more consumer relevant information on the toxic hazards of tobacco smoke.

The introduction of similar graphic health warnings in Canada have contributed to a 3% drop in the incidence of smoking.

“Australia needs effective, confronting warnings that more fully inform consumers and, in particular, young people about the very serious hazards arising from taking up smoking,” Ms Worth said.

“It is hoped that the graphic images may even jolt long term smokers to reconsider continuing their habit.”

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