Bigger is better: new study looks at how large health warnings help smokers quit

Friday 3 October, 2014

Size does matter when it comes to cigarette warning labels according to a study that surveyed smokers in multiple countries including Australia.

Led by Victorian researchers, the study supports larger and more graphic health warnings, like those found on Australian cigarette packs, because they are better at grabbing someone’s attention as well as prompting them to attempt quitting than the smaller warning labels used overseas.

Lead author Hua Yong PhD, of Cancer Council Victoria, said that the report looked for the first time at the mechanics behind how health warnings influence smokers.

“For the first time at a population level, this report confirms that warning labels change smokers’ behaviour. They do this by stimulating smokers to think about the health risks of smoking, which in turn increases their health concerns about the negative impact of smoking, thus encouraging them to make quit attempts,” he said.

Even smokers who avoided looking at labels by covering them up or keeping packets stashed away still reported thinking more often about quitting, and the health risks of smoking.

“Noticing health warnings on cigarette packs is often the first step towards getting smokers to think about quitting,” Dr Yong said.

“With smokers in Australia presented with graphic images and warnings that cover 75 percent of the front and almost the entire rear of packs, more smokers here are going to be engaged and prompted to make quit attempts than in countries with smaller warnings,” he said.

Acting Cancer Council Victoria CEO Craig Sinclair said the findings were yet another positive endorsement of Australia’s world-leading plain packaging laws.

“In 2012 graphic health warnings increased in size significantly alongside the introduction of plain packaging. Since then smokers have been confronted more than ever with the harmful effects that smoking has on their body,” Mr Sinclair said.

“It’s a fact smokers are confronted with on every pack: the best thing they can do for their health is to quit,” he said.

Quit Victoria Cessation Partnerships and Priority Settings Manager Luke Atkin said there were many forms of support available to help smokers quit, including the free Quitline on 13 7848.

“With fewer Victorians smoking now than ever before there’s no better time to quit, and we’re here on 13 7848 to help whenever smokers are ready,” he said.

The report was the result of telephone surveys conducted with more than 5000 smokers in the United States, Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom.