Smoking kills. Everyone knows it and yet still not enough people care to quit. But could cigarette packs that narrate the dangers of smoking at last drive the message home?
That’s the thinking behind efforts by researchers at Stirling University who have created cigarette packs that when opened play messages about the link between smoking and reductions in fertility and give a phone number for an advice line on quitting smoking.
Crawford Moodie, part of the team behind this innovation, told the BBC that with tobacco companies considering talking packs as part of their own marketing arsenal, “This research shows how the idea can [also] be used to promote ‘positive health’ to smokers.”
Inverting the tactics the tobacco industry uses to market its product was one of the main interests Cancer Research UK had in funding the Stirling study.
Alison Cox, tobacco control lead at Cancer Research UK, said:
“We know that tobacco companies target women and younger people with stylish, colourful packs that reduce the impact of health warnings. This sophisticated marketing can mislead people as it disguises how harmful cigarettes are. This Cancer Research UK funded study is looking to see if the marketing tools of the tobacco industry can be used to help smokers quit instead. This and other research is part of our commitment to stop the tobacco industry targeting both children and adults, particularly as more than 200,000 children in the UK still start smoking every year.”
The method works by fitting a voice recording and playback unit within the box that then plays when opened –think special event or greeting cards that sing and you have a general idea of how the technology works.
The researchers said that their test group of 50 women found the packs were attention-grabbing, especially those respondents aged 16 to 24.
Volunteers reportedly described the message about fertility “hard-hitting” and “off-putting” and, especially among 16 and 17 year-olds, made them thinking about quitting.
Others said the packs definitely would make them think about quitting or at least cutting down, mainly because they’d find talking packs so annoying — or as one respondent is quoted as saying, “Some people would maybe say I need to pack that in because the packets are doing my nut in.”
However, some volunteers said that after the novelty had worn off, people would quickly get used to it and therefore thought the so-called speaking packs would not be very effective.
There will be plenty of time to assess this as researchers will now launch trials with larger groups of males and females aged 16 and over.
This comes as a new global study by researchers from Washington’s Georgetown University Medical Center has shown that outright smoking bans may not be as effective as small tax rises on cigarettes.
Scientists looked at the impact of six anti-smoking policies introduced across 41 countries between 2007 and 2010. They found that, on average, tax rises led to less people smoking (based on sales) than smoking bans.
Extrapolating on that, researchers believe that if that trend holds and future emphasis is put on tax rises, seven million more deaths could be averted between now and 2050.
Obviously there is room for nuance here, coordinating public area smoking bans with modest tax rises and targeted programs like the above so called speaking packs.
Given that the CDC has found that 443,000 deaths are caused annually by smoking (including deaths from secondhand smoke), and that this is more than “all the deaths from human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, suicides, and murders combined,” the importance of all this kind of research really cannot be overstated.
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