Health warnings

Page last updated: 04 December 2012

Health warnings are required on all tobacco product packaging for retail in Australia. The graphic health warnings provide a strong and confronting message to smokers about the harmful health consequences of tobacco products and convey the 'quit' message every time a person reaches for a cigarette. The graphics, in combination with the warning statements and explanatory messages, are intended to increase consumer knowledge of health effects relating to smoking, to encourage cessation and to discourage uptake or relapse.

The Department of Health and Ageing has policy responsibility for the health warnings, while the Competition and Consumer (Tobacco) Information Standard 2011 (the Standard) is administered within the Treasury portfolio and enforced by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, in collaboration with the State and Territory fair trading agencies.

Regulations
Research
History of health warnings in Australia

Regulations

Health warnings on tobacco product packaging have been updated and expanded under the Competition and Consumer (Tobacco) Information Standard 2011 (the Standard) which commenced on 1 January 2012. On 30 October 2012, a minor amendment to the Standard was made under the Competition and Consumer (Tobacco) Information Standard 2012 (No. 1) to provide a replacement graphic in the health warning 'Smoking causes heart disease'.

The Standard updates the system of health warnings previously mandated by the Trade Practices (Consumer Product Information Standards) (Tobacco) Regulations 2004.

Since 1 December 2012, retail packaging of tobacco products supplied in Australia must display the new health warnings.

The key features of the Standard include:
  • 14 new health warnings for most smoked tobacco products comprising graphics, warning statements and explanatory messages;
  • a rotation system which optimises consumer learning and awareness of the health effects of smoking. Two sets of seven health warnings are alternated every 12 months;
  • an increase in the size of graphic health warnings to cover at least 75 per cent of the front surface of most tobacco product packaging;
  • maintaining the size of 90 per cent of the back surface for cigarette packaging but requiring an increase to 75 per cent of the back surface of most other tobacco products;
  • 13 new information messages on the health effects of chemicals in tobacco smoke to appear on the side of cigarette packs and cartons and on most loose tobacco packs. These replace the single information message previously required;
  • five new warnings for cigars comprising graphics, warning statements and explanatory messages; and
  • a requirement for cigars sold singly to have a health warning.

For further information on the graphic health warnings and plain packaging visit yourhealth website.

Research

The policy underpinning the Standard has been informed by consumer research on graphic health warnings and plain packaging. This builds on the 2008 evaluation of the effectiveness of Australia’s graphic health warnings and a significant body of peer-reviewed research showing that larger health warnings, including graphic health warnings, have greater impact on consumers.

An evaluation of text only health warnings and developmental research on the graphic health warnings introduced in 2006 can be found at: Review of health warnings on tobacco products in Australia 2000-2004

History of health warnings in Australia

Health warnings have appeared on tobacco product packaging in Australia since 1973. From 1973 to 1994 health warnings were required through separate legislation in each state and territory. The first health warning 'Warning – smoking is a health hazard' was expanded in 1985 to four rotating warnings covering 15% of the front of all tobacco packages.

On 1 January 1995, a Commonwealth-introduced system of strengthened health warnings on tobacco product packaging took effect under the Trade Practices (Consumer Product Information Standards) (Tobacco) Regulations 1994. This system required:
  • six rotating text health warnings on the top 25% of the front of the pack;
  • detailed health information corresponding with the front of pack warning, occupying the top 33% of the back of the pack;
  • information about the tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide content of cigarettes; and
  • a national information line number printed on the back of packs providing callers with recorded information about the health effects of tobacco consumption.

On 1 March 2006, the Trade Practices (Consumer Product Information Standards) (Tobacco) Regulations 2004 took full effect and graphic health warnings were required on most tobacco product packaging.

For cigarette packs and cartons, loose tobacco (roll-your-own) and pipe tobacco packaging there were 14 health warnings comprising graphics, warning statements and explanatory messages. These were divided into two sets of seven health warnings (set A and set B) which were rotated annually.

The health warnings covered 30% of the front and 90% of the back of cigarette packs and cartons, with graphics appearing on both the front and back of packs. The health warnings covered 30% of the front and 50% of the back of most loose tobacco and pipe tobacco pouches, with graphics appearing on both the front and back of packs.

An information message on the health effects of chemicals in tobacco smoke appeared on the side of cigarette packs and cartons and on most loose tobacco packs.

Set A health warnings
Set B health warnings

Fact sheets and posters were developed for each of the health warnings, to provide more detailed information on the specific health effects of smoking and related issues:
There were five cigar-specific health warnings comprising graphics, warning statements and explanatory messages. The health warnings occupied 25% of the front and 33% of the back of most cigar packages.

Cigar health warnings

Fact sheets were developed for each of the cigar health warnings, providing more detailed information on the specific health effects of smoking and related issues.

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