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UK: gutter press
  1. D Simpson
  1. International Agency on Tobacco and Health, Tavistock House, Tavistock Square, London WC1H 9LG, UK, Tel: +44 (0)20 7387 9898, Fax: +44 (0)20 7387 9841Email: ds{at}

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    Now that new, stronger health warnings are beginning to appear on British cigarette packs, a new form of health education has been appearing up and down the country. Thanks to the careless habits of many British smokers, who discard massive amounts of cigarette litter on pavements and streets every day, the eye of even the least curious pedestrian is frequently caught by stark messages blaring out from the gutter.

    One hardened smoker, a journalist on the tabloid Daily Mirror, admitted he was so alarmed by the stark messages that he resolved to quit. “I was queuing for a packet of 20, minding my own business, when I saw the words screaming at me from behind the counter: ‘Smoking clogs the arteries and causes heart attacks and strokes’ and ‘Smoking can cause a slow and painful death.’ And these aren’t just anybody’s arteries, heart, skin or lungs—the warnings seem to be aimed at me in particular.”

    The new series of warnings, one on the front and a different one on the back of every pack, have triggered a large increase in calls to the National Health Service’s smoking telephone help line. More than 10 000 people said they were driven to call by the new labels during the first four months of 2003, an increase of 12% in call levels. The new warnings, introduced in January following a European Union directive, cover 30% of the front of cigarette packets and 40% of the back. A thick, black border adds a further 10% to the warning area. All cigarette packets sold in the UK must carry the warnings by September.

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    Bolder warnings on cigarette packs sold in the UK appear to be having the desired effect, with calls to smoking help lines greatly increasing.