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Tax increase tipped to end smokers' Russian roulette

Published: 7:12AM Saturday December 29, 2012 Source: Fairfax

  • Quitline strategy and communications director Bruce Bassett (Source: Fairfax)
    Quitline strategy and communications director Bruce Bassett - Source: Fairfax

As Kiwi smokers prepare for a 10 percent rise in tobacco prices next week, they have also been advised they are playing Russian roulette every time they light up.

On January 1, the first of four annual 10% increases will kick in, and Quitline will begin a series of television anti-smoking advertisements featuring pregnant women and lung cancer victims.

The ads will follow a stark campaign that began in Britain yesterday, featuring the statistic that mutations occur in smokers' genes with every 15 cigarettes smoked.

British chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies compared smoking to playing Russian roulette, hoping that none of the mutations were in vital genes.

"You'd be really unlucky if it was the first few cigarettes, but it could happen," she said.

"We're trying to tell people: 'If you could see the harm that cancer's doing, you'd stop'."

More than one-third of smokers still thought that the harm of smoking was exaggerated, The Times reported her as saying.

"I think that's absolutely shocking. We want smokers to understand that each packet of cigarettes increases their risk of cancer."

Quitline strategy and communications director Bruce Bassett said the British campaign was the sort of advertising that could well be used in New Zealand.

"It gives a signal that even when you are young and start smoking, you can't really afford to do that either."

Responding to the British campaign, Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples said: "We should be doing whatever it takes to reach people" to get the message that smoking harms.

"I think that public awareness campaigns have been very effective alongside other quit-smoking measures, so the Maori Party would be keen to see these messages getting out and reaching into our homes, into the minds of people who smoke and their whanau. Absolutely whatever it takes to reach our goal of becoming smokefree by 2025."

Quitline's new TV campaign will feature the line: "Let's be honest, when a smoker dies from lung cancer, what really got them was the smoking."

The service will open two hours earlier on Tuesday, at 8am, with extra staff to deal with an expected influx of calls.

January was always busy anyway, as more people resolved to give up smoking, communications manager Jane MacPherson said. "[Plus] whenever there is an increase in tax there is a spike in calls."

Smoking rates in New Zealand were down from 33% of adults in 1983 to 17% now, but with 650,000 people still smoking, there was a long way to go, she said.