In 1969 legislation was introduced enabling a health warning to be required on cigarette packages in Australia. The necessary legislative and regulatory changes at state and territory level however were not implemented for several years, and it was not until 1973 that the simple message 'Warning–Smoking is a health hazard' first appeared. 1, 2
In May 1985, Australian state health ministers agreed that all jurisdictions would introduce legislation or amend regulations to simultaneously introduce four different warnings to appear with equal frequency on all tobacco packages.
The warnings initially agreed upon were: ‘Smoking kills’, ‘Smoking is addictive’, ‘Smoking causes lung cancer and heart disease’, and ‘Smoking damages your lungs’. The warnings were to take up 20% of the front and back of the pack, and appear in white type on a black background.
As a direct result of industry pressure implementation of the warnings was delayed until late 1987 and the warning statements amended to: 'Smoking causes lung cancer', 'Smoking damages your lungs', 'Smoking causes heart disease' and 'Smoking reduces your fitness'.
The attribution statement 'Health Authority Warning' followed each warning. The warnings were printed in 'contrasting colours', selected at the manufacturer's discretion, on the front and back of the pack and occupied 15% of the total face area of the labelled surfaces. The warnings appeared on cigarette and loose tobacco packages, but not on cigar packages. As part of the agreement with the tobacco industry, health ministers undertook not to seek further amendments for a period of five years. 5
Although this did not occur systematically across jurisdictions, the warnings also appeared on print advertisements and billboards, by virtue of a mixture of voluntary agreements and legislation. 2
Regulations for improved health warnings were gazetted in March 1994 and (apart from an extension for imported products under transitional provisions in Part 2) took effect for all tobacco products imported or manufactured in Australia after 1 January 1995 (Part 3, Regulation 7). Packets bearing the new warnings began to appear for sale in retail outlets from about March 1995, although small numbers were apparently available before then. Complete phasing out of sales of packages with the old warnings took at least a year.
The new warnings regimen was based on research done by the Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer (CBRC) 6 commissioned by a taskforce of officials from the states and the Commonwealth set up by the Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy.
Closely following the recommendations of the CBRC report, in April 1992 the Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy agreed to a number of recommendations for new health warnings and contents labelling on tobacco packaging. 7 The recommendations included the following 12 health warnings for rotation: 'Smoking causes lung cancer', 'Smoking causes heart disease', 'Smoking causes emphysema', 'Smoking is a major cause of stroke', 'Smoking causes peripheral vascular disease', 'Smoking reduces your fitness', 'Smoking kills', 'Most smokers develop permanent lung damage', 'Your smoking can harm others', 'Smoking is addictive', 'Stopping smoking reduces your risk of serious disease', 'Smoking in pregnancy can harm the unborn child'.
These warnings were to occupy at least 25% of the front of the pack, and appear on the 'flip-top' instead of at the foot of the pack. In addition to the health warning, the whole of the back of the pack was to carry detailed information about the health effects of smoking.
The proposals for strengthened health warnings outlined in the CBRC report to the Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy (MCDS) were strongly supported by the public but once again were vigorously resisted by the Australian tobacco industry. 8 Only the Western Australian government proceeded to gazette Regulations to bring these new warnings into effect. Following a change of government, Victorian Government officials decided not to support the proposed new warnings. At a meeting of the MCDS in July 1993, a compromise set of proposals was once again agreed to by all states and territories; it saw six of the proposed 12 rotating warnings dropped, and the size of the back of pack information reduced from the full back of the pack to one-third of this panel. 9 However, following the meeting, the Victorian Government changed its position a second time, instead announcing that it intended to adopt an entirely different labelling protocol, based on that used by the European Community (EC). The EC warnings were more explicit than the 1987 Australian warnings, but not as strong as those agreed upon by the MCDS. 10
The then federal Minister for Health, the Hon. Senator Graham Richardson, responded by announcing that the Australian Government would ensure that labelling of health warnings was uniform across the country, by introducing Regulations under federal law which would override those of any state or territory. 11 The Trade Practices (Consumer Product Information Standards) (Tobacco) Regulations were gazetted under the Trade Practices Act 1974 on 29 March 1994.
The 1995 Regulations required that all cigarette, loose tobacco and cigar packaging (with the exception of cigars sold singly) manufactured from 1 January 1995 had to carry specified health warnings, and that cigarette packaging also had to carry contents labelling. A warning message had to appear on the front of the packaging, with the corresponding explanatory message (providing greater detail) appearing on the back of the pack, and a telephone number for an information service. Each warning and explanatory message was to be followed by the attribution statement 'Government Health Warning'. The following warning messages and explanatory messages were listed in Schedule 1 of the Regulations:
Both the warning and the explanatory message had to be printed in black on a white background, within a black border. On a standard cigarette pack, the warning message had to cover at least 25% of the area of the face on which it is printed, and the explanatory message at least 33.3%. Both messages had to be positioned at the top edge of the pack faces, so that the warning message had to appear on the front of the flip-top of packets of cigarettes. The messages had to appear in rotation, so that within the calendar year, each message should appear as nearly as possible on an equal number of retail packages of each brand and variant of tobacco.
The new warning regimen also modified the product yield information (to that time based on a voluntary agreement) to one that gave descriptors of the health effects of the components–see Chapter 12.
The new warnings were found to be effective in improving knowledge and understanding and in eliciting more reactions that are predictive of quitting–see Section 12A.3 for further details. 12, 13
An evaluation of the 1994 warnings commissioned by the Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing and conducted in 2000 concluded there was a clear need to enhance both the content and the presentation of consumer information on the retail packaging of tobacco products. 14 Consumers canvassed in this research agreed that warning labels needed to be upgraded more frequently and should be more tangible and specific to enable smokers to personalise the information presented. Consumers pointed to the need for warnings to be presented in a larger, more prominent font, and for warnings to occupy a greater percentage of the pack faces. They agreed that Canadian-style graphic warnings taking up more than two-thirds of the pack would be a natural progression. 14
The technical advisory group assisting the Commonwealth recommended that the warnings cover 50% of both the front and rear pack faces (as well as removing the yield information, which, it was accepted, was misleading). The then Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health and Ageing, the Hon. Trish Worth, on 1 September 2003 announced the Australian Government’s intention to introduce 14 graphic cigarette packet warnings covering 50% of the front and 50% of the back of packs by July of the following year. 16 Tobacco industry objections reported in the media included that:
After considering the industry's objections, the proposed warning were subsequently modified (despite objections by health groups) to cover only 30% of the front and 90% of the back. (One consequence of the enacted model was that the 30% at the front was cut by the edge of the flip-top lid, leaving a couple of per cent below the lid. This space was effectively rendered useless as there was not enough room for any print and it was separated from the rest once the pack had been opened. The proposed introduction date for the new warnings was also put back several months. 18
Winfield packs showing the 14 health warnings in force between 1 March 2006 and 30 November 2012.
Source: Quit Victoria collection
12A.1.3.1 Warnings required on cigarettes and roll-your-own or pipe tobacco
The 2004 Regulations required that cigarette and roll-your-own (loose) or pipe tobacco (except those in small or odd shaped packaging, see Schedule 2, Part 2.1, Items 111 – 113) display a warning message, a corresponding explanatory message and graphic (Part 4, Division 2, Regulation 35A). They specified two rotating sets of seven warnings (set A and set B) and can be viewed at https://www.legislation.gov.au/Series/F2004B00295 (Schedule 2, Part 2.2, Division 2.2.1, items 201–214).
Manufacturers or importers were required to ensure that each warning appeared roughly on an equal number of packages of each different kind of cigarette, loose or pipe tobacco (Part 4 Division 2, Regulation 36-38), with:
- messages in set A appearing exclusively in the eight months from 1 March in a year ending with an even number (Part 4, Division 2, Regulation 36(2)(a)); and
- messages in set B appearing in the eight months from 1 March in every odd year (Part 4, Division 2, Regulation 36(2)(b)); and
- warnings from either set appearing in the transition period from 1 November to the end of February any year (Part 4, Division 2, Regulation 37).
The Regulations specified the size, position and placement of the warning message, corresponding explanatory message, corresponding graphic and the information message for each type of relevant retail package (see Part 2.1 Division 2.1.1 of Schedule 2 in relation to cigarettes and Division 2.1.2 in relation to loose or pipe tobacco). Specifically, the health warning must occupy at least 30% of the front and 90% of the back of cigarette packaging; and 30% of the front and 50% of the back of loose and pipe tobacco packaging. Part 2.3 of Schedule 2 provides diagrams showing required layouts. These diagrams guided suppliers and manufacturers as to where warning messages and graphics should be placed.
Regulation 29 states that if a message or graphic is likely to be obscured by a wrapper on the package, the message or graphic must also appear on the wrapper. The warning messages and graphics must also not be likely to be obliterated, removed or rendered permanently unreadable when the retail package is opened in the usual way.
12A.1.3.2 Warnings on cigars
Similar provisions applied for retail packages of cigars, except for single sale cigars that remained exempt from any health warning requirements.
The size, position and placement of warnings for cigars are contained in Division 2.1.3 of Schedule 2. Specifically, the health warnings must cover 25% of the front, and 33% of the back of retail packaging of cigars. The warning messages, explanatory messages and graphics are detailed in Division 2.2.3 of Schedule 2; and examples of layouts are in Part 2.4 of Schedule 2.
Each warning message, corresponding explanatory message and corresponding graphic must be rotated on retail packages of cigars so that each message appears, as nearly as is practicable, equally on each brand of cigar over a 24-month period beginning on or after 1 March 2006 (Part 4, Division 3, Regulation 44). They can be viewed at https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/F2007C00131 (Schedule 2, Part 2.2, Division 2.2.3 items 220 to 224).
12A.1.3.3 Bidis and nasal snuff
Retail packages containing bidis and nasal snuff required text warnings, but not graphic warnings. The warning messages required on bidis can be viewed at http://www.comlaw.gov.au/Details/F2007C00131/Download(Schedule 2, Part 2.7, items 601–605). The format requirements for warning messages on retail packages containing bidis are detailed in Part4, Division 4, Regulation 47.
The warning messages required on retail packaging of nasal snuff can be viewed at http://www.comlaw.gov.au/Details/F2007C00131/Download(Schedule 2, Part 2.8, items 701 and 02). The format requirements for warnings messages on retail packaging containing nasal snuff are detailed in Part 4, Division 5, Regulation 51.
12A.1.3.4 Information message and Quitline logo
In addition to the warning message, explanatory message and graphic, an information message and the Quitline logo was required on most retail packages.
The information message replaced the previously required product yield information and was mandated on cigarette packaging and most types of loose and pipe tobacco (Schedule 2, Part 2.1).
The information message required was (Schedule 2, Part 2.5):
The Quitline logo, where required, was overlaid on the graphic. For cigarette packaging, the Quitline logo was required on the back face. For other packaging the Quitline logo was required on the face required to display a graphic (Schedule 2, Part 2.1).
The Quitline logo was in the form of (Schedule 2, Part 2.6):
12A.1.4 Competition and Consumer (Tobacco) Information Standard 2011, commencing 1 January 2012
12A.1.4.1 The development of a new Information Standard for health warnings, commencing 1 January 2012
A further comprehensive evaluation of the effectiveness of the 2006 graphic health warnings was commissioned by the Department of Health and Ageing and conducted in 2008. 22 The evaluation found that the 2006 graphic health warnings had achieved their intended purpose by increasing consumer knowledge of the health effects related to smoking, encouraging cessation of smoking and discouraging smoking uptake or relapse. Areas for improvement were identified including increasing the size of the warning on the front of packaging, updating and refreshing the images and providing information on new diseases linked to smoking. The report also noted calls by public health experts that health warnings should be extended to cover single sale cigars, with 70% of cigar smokers involved in the evaluation indicating they buy cigars as single sale items.
A taskforce was established by the Australian Government in 2008 to examine the evidence and advise the Government about how best to reduce the social costs of diseases caused by tobacco, alcohol and obesity. Among many other topics, the Preventative Health Taskforce revisited the evidence and the status of policy internationally on graphic health warnings for tobacco products. In its final report, the Taskforce indicated that Australia had fallen behind many other countries in terms of the potency of the current health warnings and that the system failed to ensure timely review and updating of health warnings. The report also highlighted a large body of new evidence about the health effects of smoking about which smokers were yet to be warned. 23 The Preventative Health Taskforce recommended much larger front-of-pack warnings and a new system allowing more regular review of health warnings to maintain their effectiveness.
On 29 April 2010, the Australian Government announced that it would be moving to update and expand the graphic health warnings on tobacco product packaging as part of a comprehensive suite of reforms being implemented to reduce smoking and its harmful effects. By taking action to update and expand the health warnings on tobacco packaging, the Australian Government was acting consistently with its obligations under the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control which came into force for Australia in February 2005. 24
During 2010 and 2011, the Department of Health and Ageing commissioned extensive market research to inform the development of new health warnings. 25-27 The market research covered potential new images and warning statements, more detailed explanatory messages and a range of information messages that may appear on the side of packs. It also tested different colours and layouts. The testing for the most effective size of the health warnings was undertaken during the same time period under market testing to inform plain packaging for tobacco products. 27
The market research indicated that the new health warnings were likely to be effective and differed from the previous warnings in that they covered a broader range of topic areas, provided a mix of different image styles, had a stronger emotional component and a greater emphasis on morbidity, rather than mortality. The research also indicated that the proposed larger size of warnings on the front of packs made the health warnings immediately noticeable and difficult to avoid. 26
Prior to finalising the new health warning regime, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission undertook three public consultations between September 2011 and December 2011.
The Tobacco Labelling (Graphic Health Warnings) Consultation Paper (released 17 September 2011) outlined the proposal for a new Tobacco Labelling Standard for health warnings on tobacco products under the Australian Consumer Law 28 with opportunity to comment until the 17 October 2011. The draft Information Standard was released for public comment on 26 October 2011 29 with opportunity to comment until the 8 November 2011. Finally, a revised draft Information Standard was released on 14 November 2011 30 with the public consultation period closing on the 5 December 2011. The health warnings under the new Information Standard are discussed in the next section, 12A.1.4.2.
12A.1.4.2 Health warnings under the new Information Standard commencing 1 January 2012
Graphic health warnings on tobacco products were updated and expanded under the new Competition and Consumer (Tobacco) Information Standard 2011 (the Standard). 31 The new Standard was made on 22 December 2011 31 and commenced on 1 January 2012. The Standard is prescribed under the Australian Consumer Law in Schedule 2 to the Competition and Consumer Act 2010. Soon after the implementation of the Tobacco Standard, two minor amendments were made. The first amendment (on 30 October 2012) involved the replacement of the heart graphic for the warning ‘smoking causes heart disease’ to more clearly convey the type of damage smoking can cause to the heart. ix The second amendment to the Tobacco Standard (on 24 July 2013) removed the legal requirement for retailers to rotate the health warnings displayed on the retail packaging of tobacco products (other than cigars placed into retail packaging by the retailer). x The obligation for manufacturers and importers to ensure the health warnings are rotated was maintained. The Tobacco Standard was consolidated on 9 August 2013 to include the above amendments—see https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/F2013C00598 32
Similar to the 2004 Regulations, the Standard requires that retail packaging of most tobacco products contain a combination of warning statement, graphic, explanatory message and information message.
Under the Standard, the size of graphic health warnings on most tobacco product packaging increased to 75% of the front surface. The Standard maintained the size of 90% of the back surface for cigarette packs and cartons but increased the back surface of most other tobacco products to 75%. The Standard provides that no tobacco product in Australia is exempt from displaying health warnings and so commencing 1 December 2012 cigars sold as single items began the display of warnings. This change aligned Australian laws with FCTC Article 11 Guidelines which state that ‘there should be no exemptions for small volume companies or brands or for different types of tobacco products.’ (See WHO FCTC Article 11 Guidelines, 33 Product Category Considerations, section 46).
The Information Message which was previously required to be white text on a black background must now be black text on a yellow background in line with market research which determined this updated format to be more noticeable. 25 , 27 , 34
The single information message required under the 2004 Regulations was replaced with new multiple rotating information messages paired with each of the 14 graphic health warnings for cigarettes and smoked tobacco products (excluding cigars and bidis). As required previously, the Quitline logo must also appear (overlaid on the graphic) on those products that are required to display a graphic.
12A.1.4.3 Health warnings required from 1 January 2012 to 1 December 2012
On 1 January 2012 the Competition and Consumer (Tobacco) Information Standard 2011 (the Standard) commenced and a ‘phase-in’ period for implementing the new Standard was permitted. The Australian Government aligned the implementation date of 1 December 2012 for the new Standard with the implementation date for the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011 to assist manufacturers, importers and retailers in their preparation for both new regimes
Suppliers of tobacco products that were required before 1 January 2012 to comply with the 2004 Regulations could choose to comply with the new Standard or with the 2004 Regulations during the period between 1 January 2012 and 30 November 2012 inclusive.
For tobacco products that were not subject to the 2004 Regulations, the product may comply with the Standard at any time on or after 1 January 2012.
12A.1.4.4 Health warnings for cigarettes and smoked tobacco products (excluding cigars and bidis)
Parts 3 and 4 of the Standard set out the content of health warnings required for cigarettes and smoked tobacco products not mentioned in other parts of the Standard, namely cigars and bidis. The health warnings required under the Standard for cigarettes and smoked tobacco products are in two rotating sets of seven warnings (i.e. Part 3 and Part 4).
The warning messages, explanatory messages, information messages and graphics specified in Part 3 (items 3.2–3.8) and Part 4 (items 4.2–4.8) of the Standard can be viewed at: http://www.comlaw.gov.au/Details/F2011L02766
A warning statement and graphic must cover 75% of the front of cigarette packs, cigarette cartons and tobacco pouches. The warning statement, graphic and explanatory message must cover 90% of the back of cigarette packs and cartons and 75% of the back of pouches. (Part 9, Division 4)
Rotation requirements for these products are set out in Part 9 Section 9.5 of the Standard.
Two different sets of seven health warnings are rotated on cigarette packages every 12 months. The first set of health warnings in Part 3 are to be displayed with as near as possible to equal frequency for the first eight months of each even-numbered year commencing on 1 December 2012 (so, from 1 December 2012, 2014, 2016, 2018 and 2020). The second set of health warnings in Part 4 must be displayed with as near as possible to equal frequency for the eight months commencing 1 December each odd-numbered year (so, from 1 December 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2019).
Winfield Blue packs showing Part 3, first set of seven health warnings, in force 1 December 2012
Source: Quit Victoria, 2012
Note: The text components for the front-of-pack warnings set out in Part 3 are as follows: “Smoking harms unborn babies”, “Smoking causes blindness”, “Smoking causes lung cancer” “Smoking causes mouth cancer”, “Smoking causes peripheral vascular diseases”, “Smoking causes emphysema”, “Quitting will improve your health”. See https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/F2013C00598
Winfield Blue packs showing Part 4, second set of seven health warnings, in force 1 December 2012, to appear from August 2013
Source: Quit Victoria, 2012
Note: The text components for the front-of-pack warnings set out in Part 4 are as follows: ‘Smoking damages your gums and teeth’; Smoking causes throat cancer’; ‘Smoking causes heart diseases’; ‘Smoking causes kidney and bladder cancer’; ‘Smoking kills’; ‘Smoking double your risk of stroke’; and ‘Don’t let other breathe your smoke’ See https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/F2013C00598
Other than during the transition period (1 January to 30 November 2012) either set may be displayed from 1 August to 30 November each year. This pattern must continue for the life of the Standard.
12A.1.4.5 Health warnings for cigars (other than cigar tubes)
Part 5 of the Standard sets out the content of health warnings required for cigar packaging except for cigar tubes which have different requirements. Cigar packaging requires a warning statement, explanatory message and graphic. The five warnings for cigars (other than cigar tubes) are detailed in Part 5 (items 5.2–5.6) of the Standard. The warnings can be viewed at: https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/F2013C00598
In general, the warning statement and graphic must cover 75% of the front of cigar packaging and a warning statement and explanatory message must cover 75% of the back of cigar packaging. For more detail see Part 9, Division 4, Subdivisions 1 and 2.
The health warnings for cigar packaging (other than cigar tubes) must be displayed in rotation so that they are displayed as nearly as possible on equal numbers of the retail packaging of each kind of product during a specified 24 month period (Part 9, Section 9.6).
12A.1.4.6 Health warnings for cigar tubes
Part 6 of the Standard states that the same five warning statements for cigars are required on cigar tubes as text-only warnings with an example that was market tested shown below. The warning statements in Part 6, item 6.2 can be viewed at: https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/F2013C00598
Cigar tube warning in force 1 January 2012
Image source: GfK Bluemoon 2011 34
The warning statement on the front outer surface of a cigar tube must cover at least 95% of the total length of the tube and extend to at least 60% of the circumference of the tube. For more detail see Part 9, Section 9.16
The health warnings for cigar tubes must be displayed in rotation so that they are displayed as nearly as possible on equal numbers of the retail packaging of each kind of product during a specified 24 month period. (Part 9, Section 9.7)
12A.1.4.7 Health warnings for bidis and smokeless tobacco
Parts 7 and 8 of the Standard set out the content of health warnings for bidis and smokeless tobacco respectively, both of which are required to have warning statements only.
The warning statement on bidi packaging must measure at least 50mm by 20mm (Part 9, Section 9.17).
The warning statement for smokeless tobacco must cover at least 25% of both the front and back of the retail packaging. (Part 9, Section 9.18)
The warnings statements for bidis and smokeless tobacco must be displayed in rotation so that they are displayed as nearly as possible on equal numbers of the relevant retail packaging of each kind of product, during a specified 24-month period (Part 9, Section 9.7).
12A.1.4.8 Quitline logo
As with the 2004 Regulations, the Quitline logo is required on those retail packages that have graphics.
The Quitline logo is in the form of (Part 1, Section 1.3 (6)):
12A.1.4.9 Other requirements for health warnings under the new Standard
Health warnings required on cigarette packages and cigarette cartons must be printed on the pack or the carton. Health warnings required on other tobacco packaging may be printed on an adhesive label that is affixed to the retail packaging where the message is required but the label must be fastened firmly and not easily removable (Part 9, Section 9.8).
Transparent wrappers on multiple packaging or single cigars are allowed, however strict guidelines which can be found in Part 9, Section 9.9 governs their use.
Part 9, Division 3 of the Standard specifies the text requirements for the warning statement, explanatory message and information message with details such as the font style, font size and font and background colour.
Part 9, Division 4 of the Standard provides diagrams of how the individual requirements for the health warnings should be set out for different package formats.
12A.1.5 A pictorial summary of the history of health warnings over four decades in Australia
The lung cancer health warnings as they have appeared on Winfield Blue From left: a) 1987 to 1994; b) 1995 to 2005; c) 1 March 2006 to 30 November 2012; d) 1 December 2012 onwards
Source: Quit Victoria, 2012
Relevant news and research
For recent news items and research on this topic, click here
. ( Last updated May 2021)
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2. Chapman S, and Carter SM. 'Avoid health warnings on all tobacco products for just as long as we can': a history of Australian tobacco industry efforts to avoid, delay and dilute health warnings on cigarettes. Tobacco Control. 2003;12(suppl. 3):iii13–22. Available from: http://tc.bmjjournals.com/cgi/content/abstract/12/suppl_3/iii13
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