Changes proposed for cigarette packs. Picture: William West/AFP
Changes proposed for cigarette packs. Picture: William West/AFP

Push for changes to cigarette packs

THE majority of people know that smoking poses significant health risks like heart disease and mouth and lung cancer, but many remain completely unaware of the other dangerous impacts.

There are 23 health conditions now linked to smoking but new research by the Cancer Council Victoria made the disturbing discovery that a significant number of Australians could name fewer than half those conditions.

Of the 1800 Australian's surveyed, eight in 10 participants knew that smoking was linked to issues like lung cancer, throat cancer, emphysema and heart disease, which are the conditions featured on cigarette packaging.

However when it came to other conditions, like the ones that aren't depicted on the packaging, that number dropped off dramatically.

Michelle Scollo, from the Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer, said the findings indicate an unsettling gap in people's knowledge about the dangers of smoking.

"We were concerned that half the smokers surveyed didn't know about 13 out of our list of 23 health problems that are causally linked to smoking," she told

"We are concerned that fewer than half identified smoking as a cause of gravely serious difficult-to-treat cancers such as cancers of the liver and pancreas. Barely a quarter of smokers know about acute myeloid leukaemia."

While most smokers understand that smoking leads to cancer, few actually know that the 7000-odd chemicals produced from burning tobacco can reach every organ in your body.

"Many smokers think that smoking might just shave a few years off at the end of life. But of the two out of every three smokers that die prematurely, half of these actually die in middle age," Dr Scollo said.

Half of participants didn’t know 13 of the 23 health conditions linked to smoking.
Half of participants didn’t know 13 of the 23 health conditions linked to smoking.

"And not even one in three smokers in this survey knew that smoking increased the risk for and worsened problems such as diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, diseases that can really severely affect your quality of life."

The good news is that the results prove that the graphic packaging on cigarettes makes people more aware of certain health impacts of smoking.

The 14 warnings that are currently used have been in place since 2012 and the government is in the process of reviewing them, with Dr Scollo hoping the findings will help indicate which conditions need to be highlighted next.

"We understand that the Government is reviewing the current Consumer Information Standard for Tobacco Products. This is a great opportunity to make sure that more of these conditions are covered in warnings," she said.

"New images and designs would ensure that people keep looking at the images and reading the explanations."

Along with these updated warnings, Dr Scollo said that media campaigns can also help smokers understand the more difficult-to-grasp concepts.

She said that doing the warnings and media campaigns in conjunction with each other would really help drive the message home.

"Refreshed warnings and a reintroduction of media campaigns would help to ensure that smokers don't stay in the dark about the very large number of serious risks they face," she said.

Some of the other conditions that participants were unaware are linked to smoking include:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Acute leukaemia
  • Ectopic pregnancy
  • Kidney cancer
  • Infertility in women
  • Diabetes
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Blindness
  • Bladder cancer
  • Peptic ulcer