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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 August 2007, 06:59 GMT 07:59 UK
Smokers to face picture warnings
Cigarette packet warning on smoking

Images highlighting the dangers of smoking will be printed on all tobacco products sold in the UK by the end of 2009, under regulations being set out.

Manufacturers will have to start complying from October next year.

After a public consultation 15 images, including ones of diseased lungs, have been chosen to accompany text warnings about lung cancer and heart disease.

Anti-smoking campaigners welcomed the move but smokers' lobby group Forest said they were being "victimised".

Health Secretary Alan Johnson told BBC News there was evidence from other countries that the new images would help people quit.

"We do think it will help the number of people, who want to give up to smoking - the vast majority of smokers want to give up - and this will give them an extra push," he said.

EC keen

The graphic adverts come just over a month before the minimum age for buying tobacco in England and Wales increases from 16 to 18, bringing it in line with alcohol.

As well as publishing the legislation on Wednesday, the Department of Health will unveil the 15 images - chosen from an original list of 40 - that are to be used.

There's a hardcore of smokers who say 'yes, yes but I'm going to put my head in the sand'
Adam Kirby, of advertising agency Saatchi and Saatchi

The government promised it would introduce picture warnings on cigarette packets in its public health white paper in 2004 and in recent years the European Commission has been urging member countries to do so as well.

The UK is the first EU country to publish the pictures on all tobacco products.

Under the new rules, it is expected that cigarette packs with written warnings only will not be allowed on sale past September 30 next year.

For other tobacco packets, the deadline will be September 30 2009.

Ministers have said the current system of written warnings has become less effective.

'Smokers deterred'

Other countries such as Canada and Brazil have already introduced picture warnings and research shows it has been effective in raising awareness about the risks associated with smoking.

A study by Canada's University of Waterloo earlier this year found that 15% of Canadian smokers had been deterred from having a cigarette - more than double the rate in Australia and the US which had text warnings at the time of the research.

The government are bullying smokers simply because they can get away with it
Neil Rafferty
Smokers' lobby group Forest

Amanda Sandford, from anti-smoking campaigners Ash, said she hoped the chosen images would be as graphic as possible.

"Evidence from international studies is that the stronger warnings are better," she said.

But Neil Rafferty, a spokesman for smokers' lobby group Forest, described the initiative as the "victimisation" of smokers.

"You could construct exactly the same argument for placing graphic images on bottles of alcohol, but because most people like to drink alcohol, the government doesn't want to offend the majority.

"The government are bullying smokers simply because they can get away with it."

Smuggled tobacco

Adam Kirby of advertising agency Saatchi and Saatchi told BBC Radio 4's Today that he was particularly "revolted" by the images of rotten teeth, which looked like "broken gravestones".

"I think it works with some people some of the time," he said. "But there's a hardcore of smokers who say 'yes, yes but I'm going to put my head in the sand'."

Professor Robert West of Cancer Research UK estimated between 5,000 - 10,000 people would stop smoking as a result of the adverts, saving around 2,500 lives a year.

But he said increasing the cost of smoking would make the biggest difference, particularly to the poorest sections of society.

"The government is facing a huge smuggling problem," he said. "Smuggled tobacco is half the price of a regular pack and 40% of tobacco is smuggled, mostly rolled tobacco.

"We need to bear down on that as much as we can."

The legislation comes weeks after England came into line with the rest of the UK by banning smoking in enclosed public places, including pubs and restaurants.

Health Secretary Alan Johnson on deterring smokers

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