Health warnings printed directly on cigarettes is the next step in helping smokers quit, a tobacco control researcher says.

Professor Paul McDonald, a smoking cessation expert and College of Health head at Massey University, has undertaken preliminary research on the effect of cigarette warnings.

The suggested warnings would graphically illustrate the effect of smoking on life expectation.

"The idea is to print rings around the cigarette and label them 1-6, indicating with text, minutes of life lost, to make it clear for the average smoker every time they smoke past one of those rings, it's equivalent to one minute of their life they may be sacrificing," Professor McDonald said.


The study surveyed 10 smokers and presented them with preliminary sketches and mock-ups.

"We found it has a profound effect on smokers," he said.

"They literally have the risk under their nose, day after day, week after week, with every cigarette. It really brings the hazard home.

"I have to say of all the times I've done these qualitative, focus testings, I've never had such a response that was so consistent across smokers."

More research was needed, but the concept was worth investigating, he said.

Data showed graphic images and messages deterred young people from starting smoking, and had a significant impact on encouraging smokers to quit and the likelihood of quitting successfully, Professor McDonald said.

He backed Government plans to introduce plain tobacco packaging with graphic warning images.

The public health specialist was part of a group of Canadian-based researchers who, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, first developed the notion of graphic warning labels.

Canada was the first country in the world to adopt graphic images as part of tobacco package warnings. Today, more than 60 countries covering 40 per cent of the world's population have adopted pictorial tobacco warning requirements, a Canadian Cancer Society report found.

Today is World Smokefree Day. New Zealand's theme is 'Quit now. It's about whanau.'