Jane Nethercote writes:

Now more than ever, smokers are now being confronted with the stark reality
of their habit. And every cigarette pack is doing them damage.

The Quit campaign
recently took its most stomach-churning measure to date – from 1 March,
all cigarette packets destined for the Australian market have been required to display
graphic images of the effects of smoking, but we’re only starting to
see them on
shelves now.

It’s a way of bringing to life the horrific reality of what can be a “fairly benign looking activity”, says Ron Borland,
senior researcher at the Cancer Council of Victoria who was part of a
group that first urged the government to consider picture-based health
warnings after Canada introduced them in 2000.

But they’re not as graphic as they could have been, he tells Crikey.

Anti-smoking advisers strongly recommended that the pictures cover
at least 50% of the front of the pack
as well as 50% of the back, says Borland. But the cigarette industry lobbied the
government to have the “50% on the front
reduced to 30%” by making a concession that the back of packets would be covered. Thus a deal was
struck “at a high political level” to change the ratios and thereby rob the packets of their potential impact – the
front of the pack is where the images’ force would be felt
most “and the industry knows that”, says Borland.

At this stage there are seven variations of the graphic design – seven more will appear at the end of the year – with some
far more disquieting than others. So won’t smokers just start asking for the most
benign version, like the graph of statistics (which also appears to suggest
illegal drugs as the safer way to go)?

Some will, says Borland. But that’s not a bad sign. In fact,
research in Canada indicated that “the people who took active steps to
the warnings”, putting sleeves over them, putting the cigarettes in cases, were “more likely to go
on and make quit attempts over the following year”. If you become aware
that you’re actively avoiding the warnings, it’s “an indication that
they’ve got to you”.