Aus smokers lose their taste for plain packaged cigarettes

Smokers have been contacting the Department of Health and Ageing with stories of a perceived change in the flavour of the cigarettes.
Smokers have been contacting the Department of Health and Ageing with stories of a perceived change in the flavour of the cigarettes. Warren Lynam

SMOKERS have reported noticing a change in the way their cigarettes taste since the introduction of Australia's world-first tobacco plain packaging laws in December.

Under the laws, which survived a High Court challenge from the tobacco industry, it is illegal for cigarette packets to carry branding.

Logos and colours have been replaced by olive green packaging and graphic health warnings.

In Senate Estimates today Nathan Smyth from the Department of Health and Ageing revealed the plain packaging reforms had thrown up some interesting anecdotal evidence.

Some smokers, he said, were contacting the department with stories of a perceived change in the flavour of the cigarettes, even though the ingredients had not changed.

He said the new, large graphic health warnings - depicting images of people suffering smoking-related illnesses - on each packet appeared to be having the desired effect.

"A lot of people have commented that they've found the taste sensation far worse than they had thought. It has certainly changed some perceptions out there," Mr Smyth said.

"That would be the sensory perception that's associated with some packaging elements that's now actually gone and they've been left with the raw taste of what the product's about without that sensory association."

Sharon Appleyard from the department's Tobacco Control Taskforce said in the past people had associated the branding with taste.

She said the absence of branding had removed the appeal of smoking.

"This is what marketing is all about - associating different experiences with advertising and marketing and now that that's not there people believe the taste has changed," Ms Appleyard said.

She said there was anecdotal evidence the health warnings were also influencing some smokers to at least entertain the idea of quitting.

"(Smokers are) finding that those graphic health warnings for them are disturbing and because of that we have had people report to us that they are considering quitting or are going to quit," she said.

Mr Smyth said there was also evidence of an increase in calls to the quit line, although he conceded this could equally be a result of people making new year's resolutions.

Both Mr Smyth and Ms Appleyard said it was too early to gauge the effectiveness of the laws in reducing smoking rates.

Department secretary Jane Halton told the hearing intense interest in the plain packaging laws remained around the world.

She said removing branding from cigarette packets was viewed as the "last battle" with big tobacco.

"I can tell you that not only was there great interest when we passed this legislation, but there continues to be great interest in the initiative that Australia has taken," Ms Halton said.

"I think we can be particularly proud of what we've done."

The estimates hearing was told there had been 27 complaints of businesses continuing to sell cigarettes in branded packets.

It was thought in almost all instances it was businesses trying to offload old stock.

Topics:  australian government cigarettes smoking tobacco

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