Teenage smokers ignore cigarette warnings

Graphic images on back of packs fail to make impact. Picture: Getty
Graphic images on back of packs fail to make impact. Picture: Getty
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PICTURE and text warnings on the back of cigarette packets depicting the dangers of smoking have little impact on teenage smokers, a Scottish study suggests.

Researchers at Stirling University found that the graphic images and words were particularly ineffective in targeting teenagers who are regular smokers.

They found that while picture warnings – such as those showing diseased lungs and tumours – were better than text alone, when placed on the back of packets they were less visible and less effective.

The study, published in the journal Tobacco Control, comes after the Scottish Government committed to introducing plain packs for cigarettes by 2014-15.

In 2008, the UK became the third European Union country to require pictorial health warnings to be carried on the back of cigarette packs.

The latest research, led by Dr Crawford Moodie from Stirling’s Centre for Tobacco Control Research, looked at the responses of more than 1,000 11 to 16-year-olds in the UK taking part in a survey in 2008 and 2011.

The teenagers were asked about the visibility and impact of the warnings on packs, as well as factors such as how easy they were to understand and believe, and how persuasive they were.

Most of the respondents in both surveys – 68 to 75 per cent – had never smoked, while 17 to 22 per cent had experimented with cigarettes and around 10 per cent were already regular smokers, defined as smoking at least one cigarette every week.

Half the respondents in both surveys said they had “often” or “very often” noticed the warnings, and around one in five had very often read or looked closely at them.

But the percentage of regular smokers who noticed them fell from 77 per cent in 2008 to 66 per cent in 2011.

Recall of text warnings on the pack front fell between 2008 and 2011, while recall of three images on the back of packs – depicting diseased lungs, rotten teeth and neck cancer – all increased.

However, recall of the other back-of-pack images remained below 10 per cent, and the three text warnings on the back of packs with no supporting images were recalled by under 1 per cent of teenagers.

Sheila Duffy, chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) Scotland, said the research supported the introduction of plain packaging.

“Studies have shown that introducing plain packaging means greater attention is paid to health warnings,” she said.

But Simon Clark, director of the smokers’ group Forest, said: “If you want to smoke you will smoke, regardless of the size or position of the warning.”