Time for Graphic Warnings on US Cigarette Packs

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Now that the US Food and Drug Administration has been given the power to regulate tobacco products, one of its new powers is the right to change the health warnings on cigarette packs in the interest of public health.

So the first question is, are the current health warnings perfectly adequate? The answer to that one is clearly “no”. The boring small text warnings printed on the side of the pack have are almost perfectly designed to be ignored.

The second questions is, can we learn anything from the experience of health warnings in other countries? The answer here is a resounding “yes”. Numerous other countries have been using large mandated pictorial health warnings on cigarette packs for years and there is a growing body of research showing that these are much more impactful then prior text-only warnings. The warnings used in Canada present a good example to follow and can be viewed at:

http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hc-ps/tobac-tabac/legislation/label-etiquette/graph/index-eng.php

However, I particularly like the style used in Australia, where they have, since 2006 also added the freephone number of the national stop smoking Quitline to the pictorial health warnings. Graphic images and explanatory messages cover 30% of the front and 90% of the back of the pack. The message "You CAN quit smoking. Call the Quitline 131 848, talk to your doctor or pharmacist, or visit www.quitnow.info.au" is also included on the back of all packs. The Quitline number is also "stamped" on top of the graphic image on the backs of packs.. A recent study by Dr C L Miller of the Cancer Council of South Australia concluded that introducing graphic cigarette packet warnings and the Quitline number on cigarette packets doubled demand for Quitline services, with likely flow on effects to cessation.

Other countries of the world (including the United States) that have not yet introduced large graphic health warnings on cigarette packs or the number to the national quitline should do so as soon as possible.

The research from Australia can be viewed at:
http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/18/3/235
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About the Author


MA, MAppSci, PhD

Dr. Jonathan Foulds is an expert in the field of tobacco addiction.

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