Perceptions about the health effects of smoking and passive smoking among Victorian adults, 2003-2005

Brennan E, Durkin S 

CBRC Research Paper Series No. 25

As of March 1, 2006, Commonwealth Government legislation mandated that graphic health warnings were to appear on all tobacco products imported and manufactured for retail in Australia. Consisting of two sets of seven warnings, this new series of health warnings aims to educate smokers about the extended range of health effects of smoking.

The Victorian population telephone survey on Smoking and Health was conducted in November and December of 2005, and provides data on Victorian adults' levels of awareness and beliefs about the health effects of smoking and passive smoking, prior to the introduction of these new health warnings. When asked to spontaneously identify which illnesses are caused by smoking, less than half of all smokers identified most of the illnesses that appear in the new graphic health warnings.

Smokers identified lung cancer most often (55%), followed by emphysema (35%), heart disease/attack (35%), throat cancer (15%) and circulation problems/blood problems (11%). Less than 10% of smokers spontaneously identified stroke/vascular disease (9%), eye problems (7%), mouth/oral cancer (5%), and less than 1% of smokers spontaneously identified gangrene and pregnancy complications (including miscarriage) as smoking-related illnesses. However, when their beliefs were prompted, it was evident that most smokers accepted that smoking causes these illnesses (emphysema 85%; heart disease 83%; throat cancer 87%; stroke 76%; mouth/oral cancer 78%), with the exception of miscarriage (48%), and most notably, gangrene (28%).

Although a large majority of respondents (69%) believed that exposure to environmental tobacco smoke causes asthma, only one-third believed that it can cause pneumonia in children (33%) and SIDS (30%), and only 12% of respondents believed that it can cause middle ear infections in children. Overall, these results provide strong support for the necessity of the new graphic health warnings for tobacco products and the associated advertising campaign.