Large graphical health warnings on tobacco packets more effective: study

A new study has shown that large health warnings on tobacco packets with plain packaging can be highly effective in conveying ill effects of tobacco to people

By Jyoti Singh

New Delhi: In India, the number of deaths caused by tobacco year is expected to touch of 1.5 million by 2020, up from 1.3 million deaths per year in 2017. Among the measures taken to reduce tobacco consumption is the use of large-sized pictorial warnings on tobacco packs. But tobacco industry has been opposing increasing the size of such warnings, raising doubts about their effectiveness.

Now a new study has shown that large health warnings on tobacco packets with plain packaging can be highly effective in conveying ill effects of tobacco to people. It has found that such warnings would be more impactful through increased visibility of the warning thus help prevent initiation and motivate cessation.

Researchers studied perceptions of both adolescents and adults on the effects of larger size graphic health warnings covering 85% of the area of the packets against those covering 40% of the area currently being used. The study included 2,121 participants from Delhi, Najafgarh, Hyderabad and Ranga Reddy district. Of them 62% were urban residents, and 72% had never used tobacco. Half of the participants were from lower socioeconomic category and 46% belonged to the middle socio economic category.

The study participants were shown four different types of packets – conventional packs, dummy packs with conventional background but with warnings in 40 per cent of the area, dummy packs with conventional background but new warnings in 85 per cent of the area and dummy packs with plain background and new warning in 85 per cent of the area.

Researchers used an interviewer-administered questionnaire and it was conducted as individual face-to-face interview. It was found that packs with 85% graphical warnings were perceived to be more effective in increasing noticeability of the warnings and conveying the intended health message. These warnings were also effective in preventing non-users from initiating tobacco use, and motivating users to quit.

“India lacked research evidence to defend the large warnings against the legal challenges posed by the tobacco industry. At the same time, there was lack of evidence in India to show that these large warnings would be more effective on plain tobacco packs and that there was widespread support for these plain packs in the general public,” explained Gaurang Nazar, a member of the research team from the Public Health Foundation of India.

The study also highlights the need for plain packaging instead of commercial packaging of tobacco packets, in line with the experience in elsewhere. A study conducted in Australian had shown that plain packaging accelerated the decline in smoking prevalence and reduced the appeal of tobacco packs.

The study findings have been published in the journal Tobacco Induced Diseases.  The study team included researchers from PHFI; HRIDAY; Indian Institute of Public Health, Hyderabad; University of California; University of Oxford and University of Melbourne.

(India Science Wire)