EU looks for shock images to frighten smokers

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The hunt began yesterday for shocking pictures to illustrate the negative health effects of smoking, as the European Commission stepped up its campaign against cigarette consumption.

Canada and Brazil already use hard-hitting images of cancer victims and diseased lungs on cigarette packs, and Brussels plans to compile a library of similar pictures to be used in Europe.

Yesterday, the Commission invited companies to tender for the work of creating and testing the pictures for shock value. Each will be tried out on the public in all EU states to see which work best in each country.

From next year, all nations will have the option of forcing tobacco manufacturers to display the images. The UK has no plans to do so but has not ruled out the idea.

The uncompromising colour photographs and graphic illustrations are designed to reinforce stark written warnings which must appear on cigarette packets from the end of this month. These include "Smoking causes ageing of the skin", "Smoking can cause a slow and painful death", "Smoking can damage the sperm and decreases fertility" and "Smoking may reduce the blood flow and causes impotence". The written warnings must cover at least 30 per cent of the front of cigarette packs and 40 per cent of the back. Where it has been applied, the new law is having some impact, with calls to anti-smoking helplines increasing.

But David Byrne, the EU commissioner for health, has called for "new and innovative ways to illustrate the shocking truth that half of all smokers will be killed by their habit".

He added: "One hard-hitting picture really does speak more than a thousand words. These images show the reality of the damage that smoking can do." Most countries will probably deploy the written warnings first, moving to the images later.

Officials in Brussels say that their proposals are aimed more at preventing young people from taking up smoking than persuading smokers to stop.

A spokesman for the Commission said: "It's not a measure that will stop the die-hards. The main focus is to prevent people from starting."