Cyprus Mail

Gruesome cigarette packaging on the way, MP says

By Annette Chrysostomou

A bill to amend anti-smoking legislation is being prepared by the ministry of health that will change cigarette packaging in line with EU directives, which must be implemented by May 2016, House health committee member Adamos Adamou said on Friday.

The new law follows a 2014 EU directive on the ingredients and packaging of cigarettes.

“We are waiting for the legislation which the ministry of health is preparing at the moment and soon after that we are going to vote on it,” Adamou told the Cyprus Mail.

The legislation prohibits products which have a characteristic taste and aroma such as those which taste or smell of fruits or chocolate. This goes for filters and cigarette paper as well.

Additional ingredients like caffeine or giving the impression of added health like vitamins will also not be allowed under the new law.

The EU says studies have found that tobacco products or their packaging could mislead consumers, in particular young people, where they suggest that these products are less harmful.

This is, for example, the case if certain words or features are used, such as the words ‘low-tar’, ‘light’, ‘ultra-light’, ‘mild’, ‘natural’, ‘organic’, ‘without additives’, ‘without flavours’ or ‘slim’, or certain names, pictures, and figurative or other signs. Certain packaging and tobacco products could also mislead consumers by suggesting benefits in terms of weight loss, sex appeal, social status, social life or qualities such as femininity, masculinity or elegance. Likewise, the size and appearance of individual cigarettes could mislead consumers by creating the impression that they are less harmful.” Cigars, cigarillos and pipes are exempt from the new guidelines.

According to the EU directive, “The labelling provisions should also be adapted to new scientific evidence. For example, the indication of the emission levels for tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide on unit packets of cigarettes has proven to be misleading as it leads consumers to believe that certain cigarettes are less harmful than others. Evidence also suggests that large combined health warnings comprised of a text warning and a corresponding colour photograph are more effective than warnings consisting only of text.”

Thus, a big change is the display on packaging. Currently, 30 per cent of the external area must be covered by a verbal general warning about the health dangers of smoking.

The new law extends this area to 65 per cent of the package. Also, photographs will be added. Some of the pictures will illustrate the danger of passive smoking to children. Others will portray the health effect on smokers themselves, depicting photographs of people with lung and mouth cancer.

As well, the levels of tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide which are currently displayed are going to be replaced by informative messages about the harmful substances in cigarettes. There will be information on how to stop smoking and services which offer help with this.

The latest studies have been aided by the introduction of a similar law in Australia, where packaging with dull colours and gruesome pictures on cigarette packages has been obligatory since 2012.

Australian statistics show that smoking rates have since declined. This is not necessarily due to packaging, as the rates have steadily declined for years due to a comprehensive plan for controlling tobacco use over time of which regulating packaging is just the latest measure. There is as yet no conclusive evidence that smokers quit the habit in significant numbers just because of the packaging.

However, studies show a reduced appeal of cigarettes for smokers and a cut in numbers of cigarettes smoked. Also, the intention rate to quit smoking rises when unattractive packaging is used.

When people were asked about the perceived effectiveness of the proposed change in Cyprus, most think it will have some effect.

Loukas Louka, a smoker, said that people would not necessarily give up smoking solely due to new gruesome packaging but it could provide an added reason for those who actually want to quit. It could also serve as an everyday reminder for those who don’t currently face health problems that there was a health risk.

Another smoker, Monica Demetriou, said she was not sure if it would work. However, she stressed that the government must try everything to stop people from smoking, especially young people. “Even if it is shocking, they must do it” she said.

Nicos Nouris, a member of the House health committee, agreed. “We have to avoid smoking, and whatever we have to do is welcome”, is his opinion.

However, there are those who disagree that the state should take this decision.

“The nanny state should stop trying to control everything we do,” Panayiotis Iacovides, noted and also raised the question “Why do we target only smokers? Why not have pictures of diseased livers on wine bottles?”

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