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March 2009 Issue
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Grossed out smokers butt out

 Public Health

University of Adelaide research has confirmed that a graphic warning on cigarette packets accompanied by the Quitline number is helping Australia's smokers to butt out.

Calls to the Quitline number doubled in the year after confronting images were introduced on cigarette packets in 2006, with around 30% of callers successfully quitting the habit within 12 months, according to a new study recently published by PhD candidate Caroline Miller.

Ms Miller, an affiliate lecturer with the University of Adelaide's School of Population Health and Clinical Practice and a Cancer Council SA employee, said the combination of the graphic warnings and the Quitline number in 2006 triggered 164,850 calls - more than double those received by Quitline in either of the two preceding years.

"Graphic cigarette packet warnings and the accompanying Quitline number provide a chance for authorities to counter the glamorisation and promotion of tobacco via cigarette packets," Ms Miller said.

"In Australia, most forms of tobacco promotion are banned, increasing the significance of the packet as a medium for marketing, so this is a great result for the anti-smoking lobby."

Prior to 2006, neither confronting images nor the Quitline number were displayed prominently on cigarette packets, only a low-profile info line number.

Pictures of gangrenous limbs, mouth cancer and diseased lungs now grace 90% of the back of Australian cigarette packets, curbing the tobacco industry's final mainstream marketing device, the packaging itself.

The study was funded by the Cancer Council of South Australia, where Ms Miller is employed as the General Manager of Cancer Control Programs.

Ms Miller conducted her research as part of a PhD with the University of Adelaide's Discipline of Public Health. Her results are published on the British-based Tobacco Control website:

Previous research by Ms Miller has also found that subsidised nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) is successful in persuading low-income smokers to quit.

Ms Miller said the prohibitive cost of NRT disadvantaged low-income smokers, making it harder for them to quit.

"A Quitline trial which recruited 1000 low-income smokers with the incentive of heavily subsidised NRT recorded really pleasing results, with more than 73% of this group making a concerted effort to quit.

"Smoking rates in lower socio-economic groups continue to be a major concern to health authorities and we believe that by offering subsidised NRT we have a much greater chance of getting them to seek help and kick the habit," she said.

Story by Candy Gibson

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