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Study suggests graphic health warnings on cigarettes may reduce teen smoking

Tuesday 12 August, 2008

Graphic health warnings on cigarettes may lower teenagers' intentions to smoke, according to a new study looking at the smoking uptake of over 4000 Australian school students participating in surveys conducted both before and after the introduction of the new picture warnings.

The study, published online in the international journal Addiction, examined how the introduction of graphic health warnings on cigarettes influenced teenagers in the Australian state of Victoria, concluding that graphic warnings may help reduce smoking among adolescents.

Key study findings included:

  • In the follow-up survey six months after the new warning labels were introduced, 77% of students had seen cigarette packs and 88% of these had seen the new warning labels.
  • Cigarette packs were perceived as having a less positive image after the introduction of the graphic health warning labels, with fewer students describing packs as "cool," "good," "interesting" or "exciting."
  • Students in the follow-up survey thought and talked about warning labels more frequently.
  • Experimental and established teen smokers thought more about quitting and forgoing cigarettes more in the follow-up survey, compared with the period before the introduction of the graphic health warnings.
  • Intention to smoke was lower among those students who had talked about these graphic warnings and had forgone cigarettes.

Co-author of the study, Professor Melanie Wakefield, said graphic warning labels on cigarette packs are not only noticed by the majority of teens but improve their awareness of the health risks and lead to more thinking and discussion about these messages.

"Graphic health warnings on cigarettes have the potential to reduce smoking among teens with study results suggesting that discussion about the warnings and thinking about the uncompromising images shown on the packs tends to weaken intentions to smoke in future."

Executive Director of Quit, Ms Fiona Sharkie said the study further highlighted the importance of graphic health warnings on cigarettes packs.

"These findings reflect the importance of graphic health warnings as a deterrent for young people considering smoking. Young people remain the crucial market for a tobacco industry looking to addict new customers, so the positive impact of graphic health warnings in making smoking less appealing simply cannot be overstated."

"The introduction of graphic health warnings on cigarettes has had a two-for-one effect in that they not only encourage current smokers to quit, but discourage young people from taking up the deadly habit."

Ms Sharkie said the success of the graphic health warnings highlighted the effectiveness of the pack in communicating with smokers, commenting that it is now time to make the warnings larger and remove the colour, logos and branding from remainder of the pack to make it plain and therefore less eye-catching.

Fiona Sharkie is available for interview on 0437 347 007

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