Australia ushers in identical, scary cigarette packets

DISTURBING::While anti-smoking campaigners have welcomed the new law, some consumers are offended by the graphic images on the packets

AFP, SYDNEY

Sun, Dec 02, 2012 - Page 5

A law forcing tobacco firms to sell cigarettes in plain packets came into effect in Australia yesterday in an effort to strip any glamor from smoking and discourage young people from taking up the habit.

The new law, the first of its kind anywhere the world, came into force despite a vigorous legal challenge by leading tobacco companies, who said that the legislation infringed intellectual property rights by banning trademarks.

All cigarettes will now have to be sold in identical, olive-brown packets bearing the same typeface and largely covered with graphic health warnings.

A cashier at a Sydney newsagent said many customers reported finding the new packaging, which must feature graphic images such as a gangrenous foot, mouth cancer or a skeletal man dying of cancer, off-putting.

Sanjid Amatya said smokers were asking to pick and choose the images on their packets, with the photograph of gangrenous toes bothering many consumers, as well as one of a sick child affected by cigarette smoke.

“Some of them don’t care what the picture is,” Amatya said from the store in the suburb of Wynyard where he has worked for three years.

“But some say ‘Why did they change the pictures? It’s so awful,’” Amataya said.

Anti-smoking campaigners have welcomed the new law, which stipulates that 75 percent of the front of packets must feature the graphic images.

Stafford Sanders from Action on Smoking and Health Australia told reporters that research had suggested people would be put off by the packaging.

“It’s likely to make people more aware of the health warnings,” he said.

“And it will remove the potential for the packets to be used to mislead people. And it will de-glamorize the packet,” he added.

Sanders said some people had become quite upset and offended by the images.

“The images are supposed to be disturbing, to be confronting. They are supposed to have an effect,” he said.

“If the images stop one child from taking up smoking, hasn’t it been worth you being offended by it?” he added.

The percentage of smokers in Australia has dropped from about 50 percent in the 1950s to 15 percent and the government is aiming to push the figure down to 10 percent by 2018.

With 80 percent of smokers starting before the age of 18, and 99 percent before they turn 26, health authorities hope the new packaging will have the biggest impact on young people.