It isn't often that my occasional 'retail-detail' pieces get upgraded to the cartoon slot on this page, but the new 'pictorial' warnings on cigarette packs are worth a special mention. I put quotes around the word pictorial because three of the new 14 health warnings are text-only.

Manmohan Ghatora rang in mid-September in a bit of a panic. He runs Barnett's in London's Edgware. It's a delicatessen so he doesn't sell many cigarettes. He had just bought half-a-dozen cases from Bestway's Park Royal branch and was concerned to see that not all the packs had pictorial warnings, even though the outers all said the contents did have graphics. "We're stocktaking at the moment so I knew it wasn't my old stock. And these outers have the new pack sizes (19s) and new bar codes."

He was concerned that some of them would be illegal by October 1 and carry hefty penalties (six months imprisonment, a fine of up to £5,000 or both).

Since the first brand that drew his attention was Pall Mall, I rang its manufacturer, British American Tobacco (BAT), for clarification. A spokeswoman explained the 14 different warnings and said that the outers should all contain a mix of the pictures and the text-only packs (I suppose a designer might argue that the text ones are pictures of text).

Manmohan was relieved to hear the outcome but he was also ticked off that this wasn't made clear enough. The BAT spokeswoman said a number of retailers had called and she added: "We agree it's confusing but that's the way the legislation was worded."

The pictures of throat cancer, diseased lungs, rotted teeth and young dead people are graphic warnings indeed. Good thing they are on the back of packs otherwise retailers may have voluntarily regulated them to the 'dark side' by covering up their displays. The wordy ones just publish helplines and other advice.

I hope the government has painted a very clear picture of this new legislation to Trading Standards.

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