New Zealand government introduces graphic warnings on cigarettes

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Thursday, November 2, 2006

The New Zealand government has now introduced graphic health warnings on cigarette packs. The new warnings, which replace the text warnings, will show images of gangrenous toes, rotting gums and teeth and diseased lungs and will also include the quit smoking Quitline number.

The new warnings will cover 30% of the front side and 90% of the back.

The new warnings will come into effect January 2007 but the manufacturers will not have to produce the new warnings until February 27, 2008 and retailers have till August 2008 to clear all their old stock.

Damien O'Conner, associate minister of health and ex-smoker, said: "Pictures were more effective than written warnings. Actually seeing what it does to you is probably more acute than just reading the words on a cigarette packet. The approach is designed to shock people into realising smoking kills and causes serious illness. Using powerful imagery to remind people of the real and horrific effects of smoking will act to deter smokers and discourage New Zealand's young from starting the habit in the first place."

Other countries which also show graphic warnings include Australia and Canada; they say that the warnings are effective. Chris Laurenson, Health Ministry team leader national drug policy, said that international evidence was strong. "That was confirmed by research in New Zealand which supported the effectiveness of pictorial labelling."

Altogether there will be fourteen images, of which seven will be released first, with rest following.

Mr O'Connor said: "The images were horrific; but they are what happen to people who smoke in this country."

The Cancer Society says that the new warnings are good but does say that the manufacturers will bypass the new warnings by:

  • including stickers to cover the warnings,
  • Peel off labels,
  • provide cigarette holders which will enable smokers to bypass the use of the packet,
  • slow the introduction by stockpiling old packets in storage.

However, according to Mr O'Conner, one company had used removable sticker that were later removed due to consultation.

The industries will not be reimbursed for any cost that may occur. "They've given a commitment to comply by the regulations. They understand what it might mean if they don't and I'm confident that they will," Mr O'Connor said.

"The 2008 deadline is way too excessive, [...] Pictorial warnings are not a new idea. They have already been implemented in other countries and the NZ tobacco industry has the technology to print the new packets within weeks," Becky Freeman, the Action on Smoking and Health director said.

World Heath Organization rules make New Zealand obliged to increase the warning sizes on packets.