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Australian smokers get a rude shock

In Australia, if the smoking doesn't kill, the new cigarette packets might.

Health advocates welcomed the new anti-smoking laws. “It eradicates the last vestiges of advertising,” said Ian Olver the CEO of the Australian Cancer Council. “The color of the pack attracts young, new smokers, and clashes with the photos of health warnings.”

Olver said raising cigarette taxes had traditionally been very effective in reducing smoking rates. “For every 10 percent increase in price, the amount of smokers in the country drops by 3 percent," he said. "Most Australian smokers want the prices to go up because it will encourage them to quit.”

Before the price of cigarettes went up by 2.16 Australian dollars ($1.99) at midnight on April 29, smokers crowded supermarkets and newsagents in order to stockpile.

Smoking has been virtually banned from enclosed spaces in Australia since 2007. Sydney’s most famous beach, Bondi, has had a smoking ban since 2004, and smoking is routinely prohibited on sidewalks near outdoor eating areas.

Since 2006, cigarettes in Australia have been required to display a graphic photograph depicting the effects of smoking. The images must appear on 30 percent of the front of the packet, and 90 percent of the back. These have ranged from photos of fat oozing out of blocked aortas to photographs of gums barely able to adhere to their teeth. These images are likely to be the only color visible on the new packaging.

The proposed packaging is unlikely to prevent smoking, said Paul Harrison, a senior lecturer in advertising and consumer behavior at Deakin Business School. Instead it will break down the tie between the consumer and the brand. “The perception of flavor comes from the packaging, we have an emotional response to it, that isn’t rational," he said. "It’s the same with the way we distinguish the similar types of soft drinks.

“Now it will take more cognitive effort to decide between Winfield and Marlboro when they both look exactly the same on the supermarket shelf. The effect will be small on current smokers, but it might alter their attachment to a particular brand.”

Harrison, however, said that as one of many anti-smoking policies it would work. “There is a big social shift occurring. It’s becoming harder and harder for people to smoke, and less people will tolerate smokers. It’s a hardcore habit to keep up now. Most smokers will have to be really committed to their cause.”