Boring Cigarette Packaging: Enough to Stop Teens From Smoking?
Make quitting smoking your New Year’s resolution for 2012, trumpets the homepage for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. In the US, a quarter of teenagers smoke and almost 21 percent of adults do. Cigarette smoking accounts for 1 out of 5 deaths in the US every year and is the leading cause of preventable death in the US. More than 80 percent of adult smokers began smoking before 18 years of age.
Health advocates have long directed criticism at tobacco companies and their splashy advertising campaigns — remember Joe Camel? — attracting the attention of teenagers and children. The Atlantic reports that health advocates are urging the British government to ban all “eye-catching designs and branding” from cigarette cartons, in an effort to prevent young people from smoking. The calls for the campaign follow the release of a survey on December 29 by the British Heart Foundation according to which more than a quarter of young people rely solely on the packaging for their health information about cigarettes and smoking.
The survey, which collated responses from more than 2,700 16 to 25 year-old smokers and non-smokers, found that three quarters of those who responded thought selling cigarettes in packs with no colorful brands or logos, and larger health warnings, would make it easier for people to smoke less or quit. One in six, or 16 percent, said they would consider the pack design when deciding which cigarettes to buy, and 12 percent said they would choose a brand because it was considered ‘cool.’
The results suggest that some percentage of young people start smoking because of perceptions, or rather misperceptions, about smoking.
By the end of this year, Australia is set to introduce legislation banning such appealing advertising from cigarette packaging; Europe, Canada and New Zealand are watching the proposed law closely while (not surprisingly) cigarette companies are none too happy. Three of the world’s largest tobacco makers including Philip Morris are fighting the proposed legislation in Australia’s High Court.
Will such “boring” ads work in the US? Will cigarette packaging make smoking seem less appealing?
I’m hopeful but also somewhat dubious; it seems likely that teens will simply shrug off packaging. In the effort to get people (though not necessarily teens) to stop smoking, some other studies cited by The Atlantic is of interest.
According to the study under Dr. Jonathan Winickoff, a professor at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, about one out of four parents with small children are more likely to respond to interventions to stop smoking. This figure is only a bit better than the one in five parents who quit smoking “without any special help.” But as parents are more likely to take young children to pediatricians’ visit (for vaccinations and check-ups), pediatricians “can make use of the teachable moment of a child’s vulnerability to tobacco smoke… [and] may provide added benefit to helping this group of smokers quit,” notes Dr. Winickoff. Pediatricians can screen parents for smoking and point out how stopping has numerous health benefits for children, smoking being associated with a large range of health issues in children including pneumonia, asthma, developmental delay, school absenteeism, dental decay, sudden infant death and hearing loss.
Could understanding the effects of smoking on others, especially children, be a powerful deterrent to stop?
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