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Anti-Smoking Messages Aren't Working. Are Warnings On Cigarettes The Next Step?

Health researchers want cigarettes to carry individual warnings as graphic images of black lungs, plaque-filled arteries, rotten teeth and cancerous mouths no longer shock Aussies into quitting.

A new study has recommended that cigarette sticks themselves carry individual "novelty" health warnings which would be in front of smokers' eyes at all times as they puff.

"The current warnings can lose their shock value," tobacco researcher Dr Aaron Drovandi told 10 daily.

Drovandi and a team of Queensland-based James Cook University researchers questioned more than 2000 people about anti-smoking warnings.

Drovandi said the current health messages -- which are heavily used in public advertising, billboards, TV and used as a deterrent on cigarette packets themselves -- may need updating to get the anti-smoking message across.

Current health warnings could do with an update, the study found. Image: supplied

"The warnings we have now have been around for some time and smokers can view these hundreds or thousands of times a year," he said.

"We found they have been effective, but it's important they be refreshed and updated regularly."

While Drovandi said he wouldn't want to see existing advertisements disappear, his research found that smokers could respond to further saturation of safety messages -- such as warnings printed on the cigarettes themselves.

The kind of anti-smoking warnings which could be effective in future. Image: supplied

Australian law forces tobacco companies to display health warnings which cover most of the packaging, including statements or photos explaining the harms caused by smoking. It is also illegal to broadcast advertising which could "encourage people to start or continue smoking."

Drovandi proposed short, concise messages such as displaying the 'minutes of life lost from each cigarette smoked', could be effective if seen while the cigarette is being smoked.

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Other proposals include cigarettes individually carrying the number for the 13 QUIT helpline, reminders about the financial costs of smoking and addiction advisories.

"This not only delivers key information on smoking, but also makes the cigarette less appealing,” Drovandi said.

Research has found Australia's anti-smoking message could be stronger. Image: Getty

Many of the study's respondents felt that the "novelty" of an anti-smoking message was important in creating a shock to change future behaviour.

"The 'minutes of life lost' message was seen as proactive and shocking. It's quite morbid," Drovandi said.

According to the Cancer Council, 15,000 Australians die from smoking-related illnesses each year, and tobacco remains "the leading preventable cause of death and disease in Australia."

"Smoking leads to a wide range of diseases including many types of cancer, heart disease and stroke, chest and lung illnesses and stomach ulcers," according to the Cancer Council.

Australian cigarette packets carry graphic health warnings. Image: Getty

Drovandi said current graphic safety warnings showing the gruesome physical effects of smoking -- such as cancer, rotting teeth, clogged arteries -- were effective in stopping potential new smokers from taking up the habit but were less helpful in deterring those who already smoked.

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"The majority of smokers do want to quit, but because it's an addiction, it's very hard to do so. But some don't want to quit, no matter what, and they don't view the graphic images effectively," he said.

"Younger people and non-smokers do tend to have that shock reaction to graphic images, but the older smokers are a bit more jaded, the warnings don't seem to faze them.

"Focusing on younger people, who haven't smoked, might be the best way to help public health."

Image: Getty

Drovandi accepted that it may be difficult for tobacco companies to print warnings in small text on each individual cigarette, but said it was within manufacturing capabilities. He noted that Canada was currently investigating a similar system.

"It would be a challenge in getting manufacturers to change how they make products, but with warnings on packages, we were able to bring them in after years," he said.

"If we put the same force into stick warnings, it could come about."