The Guardian 22 June, 2005

Tobacco deception smoked out

As health groups last week called on the Federal government to ban the sale of fruit-flavoured cigarettes, saying the new brands are likely to influence teenagers to smoke, it was revealed that the federal government has softened the planned health warnings on cigarette packets.

Research by the Health Department showed that large and bold warnings on cigarette packets were far more effective in leading smokers to take steps to quit. But, in 2003, after the then junior health minister, Trish Worth, contacted the three major tobacco companies in Australia the warnings — which were to cover 50 percent of the front and back of packets — were downgraded.

The tobacco companies de­mand­ed the warnings be made smaller, Imperial Tobacco Australia telling Worth the warnings were a "heavy-handed proposal to placate the anti-tobacco lobby". Philip Morris Ltd was so eager to help the Health Department that the tobacco giant put its own health warning proposals to the junior minister.

Treasury documents admit that the larger warnings would have seen more people quitting the habit, at an estimated cost of $500 million in taxes. But the savings in health costs was estimated to be $2 billion. Last week Health Minister Tony Abbot refused to give any reasons for the warnings being changed.

Smoking is the biggest cause of preventable disease and premature death in Australia.

And now a new deadly brand, a cigarette called "DJ Mix", imported from Hong Kong, distributed in Australia by the Sydney-based Trojan Tobacco Company and featuring a range of fruit flavours, is clearly aimed at hooking young people.

The brand has been criticised for appealing to youthful tastes and image at a time when the community has expressed a strong wish to see youth smoking rates reduced.

Anne Jones, chief executive of ASH Australia (Action on Smoking and Health), pointed out that it is well known that teenagers model their behaviour on that of young adults. "Especially those they see as cool or hip. These cigarettes are intended to create just that image — the use of dance club terms ‘DJ’ and ‘Mix’ and the colourful packaging will be attractive to them, as will the fruit flavours.

"There is concern that smoking rates among teenage girls and young women, in particular, remain high — at an age when smoking can cause serious harm to their sexual and reproductive capacities as well as foetal harm if they are pregnant.

"These cigarettes are really promoting smoking as hip and fashionable to young people — and by emulation, to teenagers.

"We urge the government to consider legislating if necessary to ban the importation of these cigarettes as they are against the spirit of the tobacco advertising laws."

The Federal Parliamentary Secretary on Health, Christopher Pyne MP, told Ten News on May 23 there was nothing the Federal government could do to stop the fruity cigs — that it was up to state and territory governments to act against them.

But the federal government banned smokeless tobacco products in 1989 by amending the Trade Practices Act 1974. Fruit flavoured cigarettes could also be banned by a similar amendment.

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