Smokers in the Gulf oil producers could have second thoughts to continue smoking Ritm cigarettes when they come face to face with grim images on the hazards of such a habit occupying most of their cigarette packages or tobacco products under a new law approved by member states this week.

The law will be enforced in the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in August 2012 and it includes unified graphic warnings to be printed on all cigarette boxes and tobacco used in hookah and other smoking tools.

Images of ill people, skeletons, black teeth and other discouraging pictures along with warning phrases will have to be stuck on half of both sides of the cigarettes box and other packed tobacco products.

“Sticking warning pictures on all tobacco products will achieve several benefits including increasing public awareness of smoking hazards and encouraging smokers to give up…these images will also be effective among the illiterate smokers and children and I think they will reduce the attractiveness of smoking,” said Majid Al Muneef, head of the anti-smoking unit at the Saudi health ministry.

“The new regulations will be enforced at the end of August 2012 and they were approved after we noticed that the present warning labels are not enough,” he told the Saudi Arabic language daily Sabq.

The move is the latest in a series of GCC measures to curb smoking among their 42 million people. The measures included raising cigarette prices, customs duty on tobacco imports many times, and banning smoking in public places.

The six members, which control over 40 per cent of the world’s oil, have been discussing doubling cigarette prices to nearly Dh14 a pack.

Industry sources said the ban on smoking in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman has allied with a decision to stop shops from selling tobacco to people under 20 years to cut sales by 12 per cent in 2010.

They estimated total sales across the region at about 60 billion cigarettes a year with Saudi Arabia remaining the largest market given its relatively large population. Dealers now expect their business volume to decline further due to increased taxes and restrictions in regional markets.

According to official Saudi data, smoking drains more than SRfive billion ($1.3 billion) from the Gulf Kingdom’s coffers annually because of medical treatment costs besides other losses, including fires associated with cigarettes.

The report showed around 6.2 million people are smokers in Saudi Arabia, the largest Arab economy and the world’s top oil exporter. The number accounts for nearly 34 per cent of the Kingdom’s national population, spending more than SR12 billion ($3.2 billion0 on cigarettes and tobacco a year.

“The Saudi Heart Association expects the number of smokers in the kingdom to rise to more than 10 million in 2020.”

The GCC move follows a similar decision in the United States, where the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said early this year it was releasing graphic warning labels for cigarette packages, moving away from the smaller print warnings currently found on cartons.

It released nine new graphic warnings for cigarette packages today – the first new labels in more than two decades. The new warnings, which depict the negative health impact of cigarettes, are required to cover at least 50 percent of every pack of cigarettes sold in the U.S by mid-2013.

“The introduction of these warnings is expected to have a significant public health impact by decreasing the number of smokers, resulting in lives saved, increased life expectancy and lower medical costs,” FDA said.

The new labels replace the smaller, text-only warnings that have appeared on packages for more than 25 years and feature jarring images, including a man with a tracheotomy hole and a mouth filled with rotting teeth.

They are a result of The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, passed in 2009. It gave the government authority to regulate the marketing and labeling of tobacco products, which are currently responsible for nearly 450,000 deaths in the U.S. every year.