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Is a warning on every single cigarette overkill?

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Cigarette /sıgə’rєt/ noun. A pinch of tobacco rolled in paper with fire at one end and a fool at the other.

So said George Bernard Shaw, and so say most of us. The good thing about writing about smoking is that for once I don’t have to watch my words. Nothing I say could possibly offend smokers more than the government’s shock tactics and cigarette packets themselves.

Jack the Ripper is doing the marketing at Philip Morris.Credit:AAP

Those of the self-poisoning persuasion are the one section of society you can tear to pieces with impunity. They’ve been told a million times they’re not wanted. I imagine they’re so stressed out by the merciless attack that they need a cigarette.

For years we’ve drawn attention to their filth, even interrupting their favourite TV shows to make sure they don’t think we’ve forgotten. Older readers will remember Yul Brunner’s stark and simple warning – “Whatever you do, just don’t smoke” – or the more graphic image of a father-of-two coughing his lungs into a hanky and realising he will miss his children’s adolescence?

If hooks piercing tongues weren’t traumatic enough to do the trick, cigarette packaging was changed from eye-catching colours to grotesque images of human organs – inoperative and inoperable. One look at your newsagent’s adult-proof cupboard and you’d swear Jack the Ripper was doing the marketing at Philip Morris.

But now, just in case there is anyone left lighting up, not only are the packets shouting death to all who enter but those who ignore that warning will find it repeated on each cigarette. Yep, under reforms announced by Health Minister Mark Butler on Wednesday, each and every dart sold in Australia would inform smokers they were slowly killing themselves, either by the paper being an ugly colour or the words SMOKING KILLS along the side.

It’s enough to make you roll your own. Although the warning would disappear as you smoked the cigarette, which I think I would find reassuring. Look, if I suck on it, then it can’t kill me anymore!

I used to love lighting up. I started smoking at university, probably because I studied film noir – that postwar cinematic genre showcasing the anxiety, suspicion and pessimism of the 1940s, all of which were (and arguably are) calmed by a good smoke. It was a classic case of copycat cravings. Even the hatstands were smoking in The Maltese Falcon and Double Indemnity. It makes the feats of the genre’s leading directors – Billy Wilder, Orson Wells, Alfred Hitchcock – more laudable because at times it must have been difficult to see the actors. Lights, camera, ash tray!


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