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Graphic warnings on the horizon for smokers

11 May 2006

Graphic warnings on the horizon for smokers

Images of rotting gums and teeth, throat cancer and gangrenous feet are about to be put before New Zealanders as the government continues its effort to reduce smoking rates.

Associate Minister of Health Damien O'Connor has today made public a consultation document that proposes a series of warnings about the dangers of smoking, including large graphic images on the front and back of cigarette packets.

These warning are designed to inform people of the risks of smoking and minimise the uptake by young people, Mr O'Connor said.

"It is about getting some truth in labeling. Then you know that what you see is what you get."

"The evidence is clear – if you smoke, you have a very good chance of being exposed to the types of harm graphically portrayed by these images."

The government is considering options. Canada, Australia, Brazil and Thailand and a number of other countries have already gone with pictorial warnings and many others are considering it, Mr O'Connor said.

"International evidence clearly demonstrates that large warnings on the front and back of cigarette and tobacco packets are very effective ways to alter smoking behaviour – they grab attention and have the most impact."

In Canada, the smoking rate dropped from 22 per cent to 20 per cent between 2001 and 2005.

The use of pictorial warnings has played a large part in that remarkable drop in numbers and it is time to introduce the concept to New Zealand, he said.

"In a country where we pride ourselves on our outdoor healthy options, our smoking rate remains alarmingly high."

In New Zealand, 24 per cent of people smoke. The figure is 19 per cent in Australia.

As a party to the World Health Organisation's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, New Zealand is obliged to increase the size of health warnings within the next few years.

The 14 images included in the consultation document are designed to provide graphic evidence of the harms associated with smoking.

Evidence suggests that the more people recognise the severe health consequences of smoking the more likely they are to try to quit.

The Ministry of Health encourages New Zealanders to make submissions. There are several questions throughout the document to help inform responses. The document can be found at and

A summary of submissions will be released once consultation is finished. All submissions are due by 5 pm Tuesday 13 June 2006.

Background information

The review has worked through a large number of issues since October 2004. These include the type of warnings that should be used, copyright issues, the size of warning, use of te reo Maori, and focus group testing of a range of images.

Health warnings are considered an integral part of New Zealand's comprehensive tobacco control programme. Several countries around the world, including Australia (30 percent of the front of the pack and 90 percent of the back) and Canada (50/50), have implemented pictorial health warnings.

A Canadian Cancer Society study found that pictorial warnings have the potential to discourage young people from taking up smoking, and for a significant number of smokers increased their motivation to quit.

Summary of the consultation document

This consultation document builds on the initial 2004 consultation, but its focus is narrowed to tobacco product health warnings. The document is divided into four sections.

The introduction outlines the overarching framework of the FCTC in regard to the review. It also identifies the scope of the consultation document, priority areas and timing for comment.

The second section discusses developments since the initial consultation document. It covers the summary of submissions from the initial consultation, research into the labelling of tobacco products, and reviews criticism of research on health warnings by the tobacco industry.

The third section describes the proposals for tobacco labelling contained within the consultation document. The consultation document proposes changes to the Smoke-free Environments Regulations 1999:

· to increase the size of health warnings to cover either, 30 per cent of the front and 90 per cent of the back, or 50 per cent front and back of manufactured cigarette packs;

· to place health warnings on cigars, and cigarillos, loose tobacco and other forms of tobacco products which are similar to new Australian requirements;

· to have textual information on health warnings appear with black and yellow backgrounds;

· to introduce health warnings comprising pictures, with explanatory text;

· to have seven warnings for placement on tobacco packaging in year one of the new regulations, a further seven warnings the following year, the two sets of warnings to be rotated each year thereafter;

· to continue to provide for the attribution of health warnings to the Ministry of Health as at present;

· to provide for the placement of a Quitline message on all tobacco packaging;

· to provide for a qualitative message about the harmful constituents of tobacco smoke to be placed on the side of tobacco packaging, similar to Australian requirements;

· to retain the present 'substantially' compliant rule on the labelling on tobacco products sold in New Zealand that is available to imported tobacco products with less than 0.2 per cent market share.

The fourth section describes the categories of health warning messages (physical health, children – second hand smoke, social fear, poison, addiction) and displays the graphic design of the proposed fourteen health warnings.


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