Graphic pack warnings deter smokers
Health warnings on cigarette packs can help ex-smokers stave off the urge to start smoking again, according to an international study.
Previous evidence suggests that health warnings on packs can deter non-smokers from starting to smoke and stop teens who dabble with cigarettes from becoming confirmed smokers.
However, up until now it has not been clear whether they can actually help ex-smokers stay off smokes.
Researchers - led by Dr Ron Borland from the Cancer Council Victoria in Australia - surveyed almost 2,000 recent ex-smokers between 2002 and 2009.
The ex-smokers lived in Canada, Australia, the UK and the US.
The researchers wanted to find out to what extent ex-smokers notice health warnings on cigarette packs, and whether these are linked to a lower relapse rate.
The team found that anti-smoking labels "help generate reasons for resisting temptations to relapse."
Over half (57.5%) of the survey participants had not started smoking again, when contacted a year later.
Country of residence made little difference to the likelihood of relapse, although the level of responses to the warnings did vary by country; more prominent warnings were likely to be noticed more often.
Unsurprisingly, relapse rates were higher among those who were more exposed to cigarettes, such as those who had friends who smoked.
But those who said that the warnings helped them stay off cigarettes 'a lot' were less likely to start smoking again over the next 12 months than those who said the warnings didn't help at all.
Their relapse rate was 41% compared with 50% among those who said they didn't find the health warnings helpful.
"This study provides the first longitudinal evidence that health warnings can help ex-smokers stay quit," say the study authors.
They concluded: "We recommend that health professionals encourage all quitters to consider pack warnings as a potential tool to help counter their urges to resume smoking."
In Ireland, text-only warnings have appeared on cigarette packs since 1991.
However, all tobacco products placed on the market in Ireland on or after February 1, 2013 must comply with new graphic photo warnings regulations.
Text only warnings have been in place in the UK since 2002, while small text only health warnings have been included on the side of cigarette packs since 1984 in the US.
In Canada, graphic warnings have covered half the pack surface, back and front, since 2000. Meanwhile in Australia, graphic warnings were introduced in 2006 and cover 30% of the front and 90% of the back of packs.
Participants in the study were from the annual International Tobacco Control 4-Country policy evaluation survey, which monitors the impact of tobacco control policies in Canada, Australia, the UK and the US.
The research was published online in the journal Tobacco Control.
[Posted: Fri 27/04/2012]