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Researchers back tobacco labelling plan

Massey researchers back Health Ministry tobacco labelling plan

Massey University marketing researchers say their evidence suggests that pictorial warning labels on cigarette packets are more likely to reduce tobacco consumption than text-only warnings.

Professor Janet Hoek, Professor Philip Gendall and Ninya Maubach, of the University’s Department of Marketing, conducted studies recently into the effectiveness of pictorial warning labels compared with a text-only label, as required at present.

The ministry wants mandatory pictures of an ulcerated mouth, gangrenous toes, a close-up of a damaged heart and lungs, and a deformed human eye to be included along with text warnings about the dangers of smoking.

But tobacco industry representatives have claimed that would interfere with their intellectual property and brand imagery, and cause smokers unnecessary distress.

Tobacco manufacturers also argue that new or modified text-only smoking warnings may achieve the same thing as the pictures.

The Massey researchers say their studies question the industry’s claims.

“Our initial work tested five pictorial warnings and compared these to ‘Smoking Kills’, the strongest of the current warning messages. We found that smokers exposed to a pictorial warning had a higher likelihood of reducing the number of cigarettes they smoked, telephoning Quitline for cessation assistance and quitting than smokers exposed to the text-only warning.”

In a second study, the researchers compared the introduction of visual elements with changes in the text only warnings.

“The two pictorial warning labels tested were perceived as more effective than two of the text-only warnings, including the smoking kills control option.

“However, the pictorial images did not invoke high levels of fear, which suggests these images may not shock or vilify smokers, as industry spokespeople have claimed.”

The behavioural questions revealed similar results. Respondents allocated higher probability scores to the pictorial warning labels, which they considered more likely to discourage non-smokers from trying smoking and significantly more likely to encourage smokers to quit their habit.

“These findings support regulators’ initiatives to mandate the use of pictorial warning messages and suggest that refreshing the text used in warning labels, an alternative promoted by the tobacco industry, will be considerably less effective than introducing pictorial warnings.”


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