Strong Warnings On Cigarettes Prompt Smokers To Consider Quitting

Originally published on May 27, 2011 1:01 pm

Do smokers around the world really notice health warnings on cigarette packs?

Yes, especially if the warnings are graphic and rotated regularly to keep the messages fresh.

A survey of smokers conducted in 14 countries — ranging from Bangladesh to Uruguay — between 2008 and 2010 found that the warnings registered with most smokers. And among those smokers who noticed them, more than 25 percent said the messages led them to think about quitting.

The results appear in the latest issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Now thinking about quitting is one thing, and doing it is another. But getting the idea in front of more people is something most governments around the world have committed to doing.

The World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, a treaty that aims to reduce health problems caused by tobacco, now has more than 170 nations on board. The treaty requires health warnings on tobacco packaging.

The authors of the report in the MMWR noted that "warnings were more effective at getting smokers to think about quitting in some countries than in others." Take, for instance, Brazil and Thailand, which use multiple, hard-to-miss graphic warnings. Those countries had the greatest proportion of smokers "thinking about quitting because of the warnings," the researchers wrote.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has worked up some graphic cigarette labels of its own, and cigarette makers will have to start using them by Sept. 2012. Earlier this year, NPR and Thomson Reuters surveyed more than 3,000 U.S. adults to gauge their feelings about the proposed labels. Fifty-four percent of people surveyed said they favor the graphic labels to deter smoking.

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