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Shock pictures for Europe smokers

Should shock pictures be used on the world's cigarette packets?
Brussels (Belgium)

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The European Union has launched an aggressive anti-smoking drive with grisly photos of rotten lungs, throat tumors and decayed teeth that it hopes will be used on cigarette packets.

The European Commission, the EU's executive, wants national governments to adopt the images and use them to ram home existing written warnings to persuade current smokers to quit and convince children never to start.

"It's obvious that advertising pays, otherwise people wouldn't advertise -- so now we're getting on that bandwagon," Europe's health chief David Byrne told a news conference Friday.

The 42-picture library sent to national health ministries includes disturbing photos of disease and death but also humorous and abstract images -- a wrinkled apple accompanies a warning about skin ageing, while a bent cigarette illustrates a warning about impotence.

Canada pioneered the idea and similar photos are now in use in Brazil.

At the same time the images were released, a simultaneous report by independent tobacco experts said smoking killed more than 650,000 Europeans a year and cost EU states about 100 billion euros ($126 billion).

EU states should establish dedicated anti-smoking agencies, and the EU should create a tobacco regulator, it said.

The report urged European countries to immediately raise anti-smoking budgets by 1-3 euros per person, and continue to hike cigarette prices through higher taxes.

Tobacco should be removed from consumer price indices because some countries worried tax rises would lift inflation figures, the report said.

"People need to be shocked out of their complacency about tobacco," Byrne said.

"The true face of smoking is disease, death and horror -- not the glamour and sophistication the pushers in the tobacco industry try to portray."

Byrne, the Commission's outgoing health and consumer protection commissioner, said Ireland and Belgium had already shown interest in passing national laws adopting the graphic warnings, and he hoped some countries would begin next year.

British smokers' lobby group Forest said the warnings were gratuitously offensive and singled out smokers, since no similar schemes applied for alcohol or fatty foods.

"Smokers are well aware of the health risks of smoking. There's no need to rub their noses in it," Forest Director Simon Clark told Reuters. "All that is needed is a simple written warning."

British ban?

Byrne, an Irishman, said he would like to see other countries follow the example of Ireland, which earlier this year became the first country to ban smoking in all public buildings, including bars and restaurants. Norway has since followed suit.

But he said momentum for such bans needed to build in countries rather than being imposed by the Commission. "I would be concerned that it could be characterized as being a diktat from Brussels," Byrne said.

The likelihood of a ban in British public places including restaurants and pubs serving food has been raised by ministers in recent weeks, and Liberal Democrat MEP Chris Davies urged the Blair administration to impose the written warnings "as soon as possible."

The idea of picture warnings comes from Canada, where their use for the last four years has significantly increased awareness of the health dangers of smoking.

Canadian research into the value of such illustrations revealed a 44 percent increase in smoker motivation to give up the habit.

The study carried out by the Canadian Cancer Society one year after the introduction of pictures on cigarette packs found that 43 percent of smokers were more concerned about the health effects of smoking because of the new warnings.

At the same time 44 percent of smokers said the new warnings increased their motivation to quit smoking. Of those who attempted to quit, 38 percent said the warnings were a factor in motivating them in their quit attempt.

On one or more occasions, 21 percent of smokers had been tempted to have a cigarette but decided not to because of the new warnings.

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