Could Talking Cigarette Packs Help Smokers Quit?

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.

Image credit: Thinkstock.


Stacey Toda
Stacey Toda4 years ago

I think this is one of those things that may sound good on paper but doesn't really do anything in the long run.

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill4 years ago

I don't care what they do about smoking, people are still going to kill themselves by smoking. Even though they know how bad they are for you.

Rachel M.
Rachel M4 years ago

Actually Linda - I think you stated it perfectly this time. Be very happy you didn't start because you are right, it's supposedly harder to quit smoking cigarettes than it is to quit heroin.

I have never tried to kick a heroin habit so I can't say that's the case but I do know that quitting smoking was and still is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do.

I also know that the more people pushed me to quit the more I rebelled against them, I needed to make the decision on my own and only then did I have the strength to quit.

I just really resented being lumped into a category as being stupid for having started, it's kind of like calling all obese people lazy ...........

Edgar Zuim
Edgar Zuim4 years ago

This tactic is used in some countries, such as Brazil. But people continue to smoke. The orientation of not smoking must come cradle, and parents should serve as an example. Parents should never smoke in front of children because children follow the examples of their parents.

Eternal Gardener
Eternal Gardener4 years ago

No! Just another gadget in the long line of futile attempts already made...

Linda McKellar
Past Member 4 years ago

Sorry Rachel, perhaps I should say I was smart for not starting any of those vices rather than that smokers are "stupid" but that would be construed as equally rude and arrogant so I guess I can't win. As Einstein said, continuing to do the same thing and expecting different results is insanity. Could that apply to such vices? My parents smoked briefly but my brother and I convinced them to stop when we were kids. At that time smoking was not revealed as awful as it has since been proven and was a social experience. Smoking now is largely socially unacceptable so it amazes me that young people still start. Both parents drank but only socially. Neither my brother or I ever drank, smoked or used drugs. I don't wish to demonize anyone so should I say smoking is stupid, not the smoker. I know some very bright people who smoke, however when some smokers just say they don't want to quit & don't give a damn, & I do know a few that fit that description, then I must say THOSE smokers are stupid. I realize it is VERY hard to overcome a smoking addiction, supposedly the hardest of all.

Rachel M.
Rachel M4 years ago

Sorry Linda, there is no tough love given by calling someone stupid. I never said you needed to say anything "nice" about cigarettes, I said you shouldn't demonize a smoker

I was told over and over and over again how smoking would kill me but that still didn't stop me from doing it. It's funny how someone who has obviously never struggled with an addiction can say that you're stupid for starting.

Linda McKellar
Past Member 4 years ago

@Rachel - I have seen too many people die from cigarettes to say anything nice about them. I also say the same for drugs & alcohol. Why anyone uses any of these things is beyond me. The deaths caused by all of them are ugly. Of course they're an addiction. My point is why on earth do people start using any of them especially with the knowledge we now have. These curses cost all of us millions in health care dollars thus depriving others of care because of their addictions. The psychological & physical harm addictions cause to addicts families is immense. Sorry but that is selfish. You said yourself gimmicks don't work. Only tough love does. That is calling a spade a spade if that is all that gets through. I have seen UGLY deaths on a daily basis for years & the kind, loving hand does not stop an addict. The truth & knowing the consequences is the only cure. Smoking, drinking & drugs are not cool, period.
The solution is as ugly as the addiction, telling people it will kill them.

Sandi C.
Sandi C4 years ago

I never smoke but it seems to me that if a person wants to smoke their going to do it, the high price didn't work.

Bill Eagle
Bill Eagle4 years ago

I can hear in mind a talking cigarette saying "Hey stupid! Sucking on me has just shortened your life! How dumb can you get?"