A new study contends that cigarette packaging insert warnings actually work, in that smokers who read them have a greater likelihood of making sustained attempts at quitting.
In June, 2012, Canada became the first and only country to require tobacco companies to add card inserts to their cigarette packs with information on quitting smoking. In the year 2000, Canada was the first country to mandate pictorial health warning labels on cigarette packs, a practice copied in more than 70 countries since.
While the research suggests that the exterior pictorial images have a positive effect, with the more graphic and threatening images perceivably are doing a better job at affecting consumers’ behaviour, to this point research on the effectiveness of card inserts has been limited.
The current joint study by experts from the United States, Mexico, Canada and Indonesia interviewed over 1,400 Canadian smokers to find out whether they noticed and read the inserts and other labeling on cigarette packs, whether they had attempted to quit in the past and what their thoughts were on the health risks of smoking.
The results showed that, unsurprisingly, a higher percentage of smokers noticed and read the exterior packaging (72-82 per cent) than those who read the interior inserts (29-36 percent).
But not only was reading inserts correlated with a greater likelihood to make attempts at quitting, this increase was also found to be independent of the effects of the exterior packaging, suggesting that the inserts and exterior images might work best in tandem. “Inserts appear to complement threatening pictorial health warning labels by influencing different smoker subpopulations and working along pathways that health warning labels do not address,” say the study’s authors.
In Canada, it appears that cigarette packaging is about to get another overhaul, with the Liberal government aiming to make good on its campaign promise to call for plain packaging for cigarettes, a move already instituted in Australia. The plain packaging will mean that familiar logos for brands such as Player’s, Du Maurier and Export A will no longer be visible on the pack and only the printed name of the brand allowed.
Health Minister Jane Philpott is onboard. “There is strong evidence that [plain-packaging] will help to decrease smoking rates,” she said, adding that the government will introduce new plain-packaging requirements for tobacco products, prohibiting brand colours, logos and graphics on cigarette packages.
The move to plain-packaging is being lauded by anti-smoking groups. Rob Cunningham, senior policy analyst for the Canadian Cancer Society said the cigarette package works as a “mini-billboard that walks around homes and schoolyards and communities promoting tobacco.”
Cunningham says “if we’re going to have a true ban on tobacco advertising, we need to get promotion off the package.”
From the perspective of the tobacco companies, however, requiring plain-packaging represents a something of a singular attack on free enterprise. Eric Gagnon, head of external and corporate affairs for Imperial Tobacco Canada, said, “I don’t think that any other industry in the world would accept that the government takes over their brands … But I’m not going to speculate on the next steps at this point in time.”