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Images on cigarette packets 'will be effective'

Friday, February 29, 2008

Graphic images on cigarette packets 'will be effective'

A key purpose of the new graphic pictures on cigarette packets is being overlooked, says a leading researcher on health warnings.

Graphic images on cigarette packets, including pictures of gangrenous toes, diseased lungs and rotting teeth and gums, were introduced this week in a further move to curb cigarette smoking.

Professor Janet Hoek says media cover has focused on smokers’ response to the images. “However a key purpose of the pictorial warning labels – known as PWLs – is to deter young people from taking up smoking and to display smoking as abnormal behaviour.

She says her own research shows that the images have a very strong impact on young people. “We used plain packaging (unbranded cigarette packets), with text and PWLs, in an experiment where respondents identified the pack that would be the most and least acceptable to a young smoker.

“The plain packs with PWLs were many hundreds of times less attractive than text only warnings,” she says.

Professor Hoek says the images also have a role in prompting smokers to make quit attempts. “Research reported at last year’s Oceania Smokefree conference showed that it takes smokers an average 14 attempts to quit. This means that interventions that promote a quit attempt, or that support behaviours that are precursors to quitting, are extremely important.

“Our research shows that PWLs would be more effective in prompting these behaviours than continuation of text warnings, even if these were refreshed.”

Professor Hoek also takes issue with suggestions by some lobby groups that opinions are divided on the effectiveness of the pictorial warnings. “This is not correct. Our research studies clearly show that PWLs are more likely than text only warnings to stimulate quit attempts, calls to Quitline and a reduction in the number of cigarettes smoked.”

“Findings from Australia also show that calls to cessation services increased markedly following the introduction of PWLs.”

Finally, Professor Hoek notes the importance of PWLs in assisting smokers who have quit. “Smoking is a powerful addiction, made more so by the attractive imagery on tobacco packaging. Smokers themselves have said that tobacco packaging is a form of advertising. PWLs will also support those smokers who have quit, and who face on-going temptation every time they encounter a tobacco power wall in retail outlets.”

Professor Hoek leads a research team in the College of Business at Massey University. Over the past four years, she has conducted three studies on the impact of pictorial images displayed on cigarette packets.


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