A bland approach in discouraging smokers may be more effective than confronting pictures of gangrenous toes, with a study showing plain cigarette packaging has triggered a surge in calls to the Quitline.
Research published online by the Medical Journal of Australia suggests plain olive green packaging, which became compulsory in Australia in October 2012, has had a bigger and more lasting impact than the 2006 introduction of graphic health warnings and images on packets.
Sydney researchers found a 78 per cent increase in weekly calls to the Quitline in NSW and the ACT after the start of plain packaging - about the same as the increase after the health warnings but the effect was more immediate and much more sustained.
The researchers said they had excluded other factors such as anti-smoking advertising and tobacco price rises. Experts said yesterday it showed plain packaging was an important incremental step in comprehensive tobacco control and had strengthened the impact of health warnings.
Heart Foundation tobacco control spokesman Maurice Swanson said the increase in calls to the Quitline provided further evidence on the positive impact of the measure.
"Plain packaging has increased the power of the graphic health warnings - and the Quitline telephone number - by replacing the branding and colours designed by the tobacco industry to mislead smokers about the harmful effects of smoking," Mr Swanson said.
"Smokers need to be reminded regularly that up to two-thirds of them will be killed prematurely by their smoking."
Australian Council on Smoking and Health president Mike Daube said the results were encouraging. "The main aim of plain packaging was always around preventing children from starting, so clear evidence that it has encouraged quitting is a real bonus," Professor Daube said.