Bigger, bolder health warnings prompt smokers to quit.

Tuesday 06 February 2007

ASH news release:  Embargo: 00: 6.00am Tuesday 6th February 2007


Bigger, bolder health warnings prompt smokers to quit.

A new study of the reaction of smokers to text and pictorial health warnings on cigarette packs has shown that the bigger and clearer the warnings, the greater the impact on smokers, prompting many to try to quit. [1]  The study conducted in four countries: USA, Canada, UK and Australia –  all with different sizes and types of warnings – shows that large, prominent  written warnings increase awareness and knowledge of the health risks of smoking. However, pictorial warnings are even more effective.  Currently Canada and Australia have pictorial warnings whilst the UK and USA have text only warnings.


The study also revealed the importance of a keeping the warnings under constant review to avoid “warning fatigue”.  Significantly, awareness of the health messages contained in the warnings rose when the wording and size of the warnings changed.  In the UK, for example, after the new text warnings were introduced in 2002, the proportion of smokers who noticed warnings “often” or “very often” almost doubled from 44% to 82% – the highest level of any country.


Although the enhancement of the UK text warnings led to high levels of noticing, the impact of these text-only warnings was considerably lower for more important measures, such as thinking about the health risks of smoking and whether smokers reported that the labels had stopped them from having a cigarette that they were about to smoke. For these more important measures, the Canadian graphic warnings had greater impact.



Deborah Arnott, Director of the health campaigning charity ASH, said:


“This study provides important evidence to support the UK Government’s proposal to add picture warnings on tobacco products.  We urge the Government to press ahead with the plans outlined in the 2006 consultation paper and to introduce the strongest possible images onto cigarette packs as soon as possible.   We also urge the UK Government to lobby the EU Commission to enable picture warnings to be placed on both the front and back of the packs to further increase visibility and effectiveness.


“Belgium is the first EU country to add picture warnings to cigarettes.  There is no reasons why all other EU member states should not follow suit.  The evidence is clear: warnings do work and lives can be saved as a result. “



Notes and links:

[1]  Hammond D et al.  Text and graphic warnings on cigarette packages.  American Journal of Preventive Medicine 2007; 32(3): 202-209


Contact: Deborah Arnott  020 7739 5902 (w) 079 7693 5987 (m) ISDN available

For further information about the study, contact Dr David HammondUniversity of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada: on Tel:  (519) 888-4567 ext.36462;  Fax: (519) 886-6424