• Image: James Cook University
    Image: James Cook University
  • Image: James Cook University
    Image: James Cook University
  • Image: James Cook University
    Image: James Cook University
  • Image: James Cook University
    Image: James Cook University

Plain cigarette packaging with graphic warnings is losing its impact and should be coupled with warnings on the cigarettes themselves, a study has found.

The research from James Cook University, conducted by Dr Aaron Drovandi, questioned more than 2000 people on the effectiveness of various anti-smoking warnings and found that while the graphic warnings were effective when first introduced, the shock value is wearing off.

Quit Victoria's research shows smokers perceived cigarettes in plain packaging as lower in quality. Smokers were also more likely to consider quitting, the study found.
Graphic warnings on cigarette packaging are losing their shock value, a study has found.

“Over time they’ve become less effective due to desensitisation, particularly with active smokers. They do still have that effect on younger people who aren’t exposed to them as frequently – for these people, they retain the shock value and at least some of the effectiveness, so they’re still deterring new smokers, including teenagers and young adults, from picking up the habit,” Drovandi told PKN.

Drovandi focus-tested a number of different warnings which were printed on labels and attached to cigarettes which smokers could handle and offer their opinions. He found that messages about the cost of cigarettes, effects on family members, and counters showing “minutes of life lost” were the most effective.

“Effective alternative warnings relating to tobacco use, such as the ‘minutes of life lost’ per cigarette and the financial consequences of smoking can be printed onto individual cigarettes. This not only delivers key information on smoking, but also makes the cigarette less appealing.

“I recommend coupling these warnings with existing graphic warnings on packaging, especially if the warnings on the cigarettes are different to what is on the packaging so it’s not simply repetition of the same information,” he said.

If implemented, messages could be printed on cigarettes using non-toxic vegetable oil, similarly to how cigarette manufacturers in less strict jurisdictions print advertisements on their products.

“This can be done in a way that’s safe, or at least not any more harmful than cigarettes already are,” said Drovandi.

Australia’s plain packaging laws have been credited with helping slash the 2016 national smoking rate to almost half of what it was in 1995. Drovandi stresses that neither plain packaging nor individual cigarette warnings should take precedence over the other.

“Improving the quality and volume of information that is out there is vital in ensuring that young people – who are very much the target market for cigarette companies – are deterred from smoking, and current smokers are aware of the danger.

“Plain packaging has shown that it does have an effect as well. Any change which increases the amount of education to the public, and reduces the attractiveness of smoking, is a step forward for public health,” he said.

Smoking is the largest preventable cause of mortality in Australia, killing an estimated 15,000 Australians per year.

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