Fading smoke signals
The impact of graphic images and dire health warnings on cigarette packets has burned out, according to a James Cook University study.
Pharmacy lecturer and PhD candidate, Aaron Drovandi, found that the confronting pictures and ominous messages, first featured on tobacco packaging 12 years ago, no longer shock Australians or deter smokers.
“Smokers, in particular, aren’t really fazed by them anymore,” he said. “When they first came out, they had quite a high impact, but that has worn off.
“So even though people are still looking at the pictures and messages, it’s not affecting their behaviour. They think that portraying the negative health consequences of smoking has been done to death.”
Mr Drovandi has surveyed more than 900 people, including both smokers and non-smokers, for his PhD research project, Perceptions of Australians on Tobacco Packaging and Health Warnings.
He investigated how people respond to the current shock advertising tactics through a range of research methods: online questionnaires, phone and face-to-face interviews, as well as focus groups. Research participants included the wider community, pharmacists, university students, and 150 high school students in Townsville, Rockhampton and Brisbane.
The researcher found that younger people, who’d had less exposure to the tobacco packaging than older adults, were not as jaded with it. However, many adolescents were ignoring the health warnings. “A lot of young kids are still experimenting with tobacco products, and they are much more likely to become addicted to tobacco as they get older,” Mr Drovandi said.
“So improving education and raising awareness of the dangers are important to prevent tobacco use at a young age.”
Keen to explore alternative anti-smoking pitches – including modes of delivery – he asked research participants to evaluate several different thought-provoking messages, all designed to be printed on individual cigarettes. There were two “stand-out” winners.
“The message, ‘Smoking one pack per day costs over $11,000 per year. What could you buy instead?’ struck a chord,” Mr Drovandi said. “A lot of people indicated that they care more about the money than their own health.”
“The other one that rated highly was a cigarette with a time scale printed down the side, measuring the number of minutes of life lost from smoking the cigarette. People found that to be quite a strong and potentially effective message.”
Overall, research participants believed that cigarettes with health messages had a greater deterrent value than those without. More than 80 per cent said they would support having warnings delivered on individual cigarettes.
When he submits his thesis later this year, Mr Drovandi also plans to share his research with the Cancer Council and Lung Foundation Australia.
“Hopefully, my findings will stimulate discussion on new ways to educate people about the hazards of tobacco use,” he said.
Link to images here.
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