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Health groups in Australia have warned governments to close stockpiling loopholes when introducing new picture based health warnings on tobacco packets. Under Australian law, all tobacco packets manufactured from March 2006 must by law display the new graphics—alerting smokers and potential smokers to the full range of diseases and disabilities caused by tobacco products, and how to get help with quitting. But a survey carried out by ASH in late July this year found that 70% of Sydney tobacco retailing shops were still selling some tobacco products with text only warnings—fully 16 months after the graphic warnings were introduced.
ASH surveyed 40 shops (10 supermarkets, 10 general “convenience” stores, 10 petrol stations and 10 tobacconists) in the city and inner suburbs. At 28 shops, ASH was able to buy either cigarettes or roll your own or cigars carrying the old warnings—including from all 10 of the tobacconists, eight of the convenience stores and five each of the supermarkets and petrol stations. In the big supermarket chains and petrol stations where turnover was high, there was less evidence of stockpiling. In all cases, less than 5% of the packets in the shops carried the outdated warnings.
Tobacco companies in Australia fought long and hard to delay and downsize the graphic health warnings, shown by research to be more effective that text only messages. Now, by stockpiling the old packets, the tobacco industry continues to delay giving smokers the full picture about the diseases and disabilities caused by tobacco products. ASH is also concerned that stockpiling can be used by the industry to create doubt over accuracy of declines in smoking prevalence figures that are based on self reporting.
Tobacco kills more than 15 000 Australians a year and still needs much tougher regulation to protect smokers—and potential smokers, who are mostly children. Before introducing the new warnings, the Australian government was warned about the dangers of stockpiling, and advised that legislation could and should require withdrawal of stock with old warnings by a certain date. The government chose to ignore this advice. The Australian experience emphasises the importance of including firm deadlines to prevent stockpiling in all measures to introduce new warnings.