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Use of the cigarette pack to help smokers quit

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You may have noticed that over the past few years the cigarette companies have been trying to persuade the pubic that they are really nice people trying to make the world a better place. For example, at the start of this decade in the U.S. we saw ads on T.V. showing that Philip Morris tobacco company was bringing bottled water to flood victims or donating to good causes. Why would I be cynical and call this a P.R. stunt? Well for one thing because they spent more money on telling the public about the good deeds than on the good deeds themselves!

More recently companies like Philip Morris have been involved in such odd activities as providing consumers with booklets designed to help them to quit smoking. Of course, if the tobacco companies really did have their customers best interests at heart they would withdraw their products completely. But that isn’t going to happen. The management of these companies have a duty and a responsibility to do their best to help the company make money and provide value to their shareholders. So when it comes to activities apparently designed to help smokers quit, one can be pretty sure that’s not the long term intent. The intent is to provide a PR benefit that will outweigh any effect of helping smokers to quit.

One thing tobacco companies do have control over is the cigarette pack itself. Right now the United States is one of many countries that has inadequate health warnings on the pack. Compare the rather weak and small written health warning on the side of a US cigarette pack with the powerful (and large) pictorial warnings on cigarette packs in numerous other countries. You can view pictorial pack warnings from around the world at:
http://www.smoke-free.ca/warnings/default.htm

The new legislation giving FDA the power to regulate tobacco products in the United States provides a new opportunity for the government to regulate not only the product but also the packaging. At the recent UK National Smoking Cessation Conference, Dr David Hammond of University of Waterloo in Canada gave an excellent presentation on the most effective ways to use the cigarette pack to inform smokers about the harmfulness of tobacco and to encourage them to quit. He showed that strong emotional pictures of the harms from tobacco on the pack itself, combined with limiting brand information, adding direct information about help to quit on the pack (e.g. the national quitline number) plus a quit smoking “onsert” added to the pack will all have the effect of encouraging smokers to make a quit attempt.

He made it clear that every country in the world should be much more active in using the cigarette pack as a means of encouraging smokers to quit. The companies themselves clearly won’t do it voluntarily, so governments need to take control of the packs via legislation and require much more effective warnings and quitting information be included on cigarette packs.

You can listen to Dr Hammond’s full presentation and view his slides by clicking on the appropriate icon at the following website:
http://www.uknscc.org/2009_UKNSCC/intro.html
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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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