All cigarettes sold in Australia will now be in identical, plain packages in a world first after the government overcame legal challenges from the tobacco industry.
Under the new laws all tobacco products must be sold in drab, olive-brown packets with expanded graphic health warnings which feature images such as mouth cancer.
The new law, the first of its kind anywhere the world, came into force despite a vigorous legal challenge by big tobacco, which argued that the legislation infringed its intellectual property rights by banning trademarks.
A cashier at a Sydney newsagent said many customers reported finding the new packaging, which must feature graphic images such as a gangrenous foot, mouth cancer or a skeletal man dying of cancer, off-putting.
Sanjid Amatya said smokers were asking to pick and choose the images on their packets, with the photograph of gangrenous toes bothering many consumers, as well as one of a sick child affected by cigarette smoke.
"Some of them don't care what the picture is," Amatya said from the store in the suburb of Wynyard where he has worked for three years.
"But some say 'Why did they change the pictures? It's so awful'."
Anti-smoking campaigners have welcomed the new law, which stipulates that 75 per cent of the front of packets must feature the graphic images.
Stafford Sanders from Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) Australia said that research had suggested people would be put off by the packaging.
“It's likely to make people more aware of the health warnings,” he said.
"And it will remove the potential for the packets to be used to mislead people. And it will de-glamourise the packet."
Sanders said some people had become quite upset and offended by the images.
"The images are supposed to be disturbing, to be confronting. They are supposed to have an effect," he said. "If the images stop one child from taking up smoking, hasn't it been worth you being offended by it?"
The number of smokers in Australia has dropped from about 50 per cent in the 1950s to 15 per cent now and the government is aiming to push it down to 10 per cent by 2018.
With 80 per cent of smokers starting before the age of 18, and 99 per cent before they turn 26, health authorities hope the new packaging will have the biggest impact on young people.
"If we can prevent young people from taking it up, that's a lifetime gift to them," Health Minister Tanya Plibersek said on Friday ahead of the law coming into effect.
Smoking is one of the leading causes of preventable death and disease in Australians, killing an estimated 15,000 every year.
The government says it will not be heavy-handed in enforcing the legislation in cases where a few packets of old cigarettes are sold in error, but there is the possibility of fines of more than A$1 million for a corporation that commits a large and deliberate breach of the law.
Whether similar restrictions are brought in in Thailand remains to be seen.
Thailand is seen by many as comparatively pro-active in reducing the availability and ‘glamour’ of smoking, with visitors to the country often finding it incredibly difficult to actually find somewhere that stocks cigarettes – convenience stores keep them hidden within a metal case behind the counter.
This is because tobacco wares are not allowed to be displayed in public which includes no advertising, anywhere. On state television channels, even movie scenes which include a character smoking are blurred out. It is for this reason that
In 2005, Thailand was one of the first countries to implement graphic health warnings and as of January 2012, the Thai government stated that ‘toxic constituent information’ should be displayed on no less than 60 per cent of the side panel of cigarette packets in Thailand.
This has led to some rather gruesome images on the packs, including blackened lungs, cancerous growths and rotten digits.
Despite these steps 27 per cent of the Thai population still smoke – 47 per cent of men and 9 per cent of women. Around 55,000 Thai people died from tobacco-related diseases in 2006.