11:17pm Sunday 20 August 2017

Warning labels on cigarettes would help smokers quit

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Professor Paul McDonald

Massey’s new College of Health head Professor Paul McDonald, a world expert on smoking cessation, backs the Government’s plans to introduce unbranded tobacco packages with graphic warning images, saying it is the next logical step for cigarette packaging.

Friday, May 31 is World Smokefree Day, with the theme in New Zealand ‘Quit now. It’s about whānau.’ Eighteen per cent of New Zealand adults are smokers – down from 20 per cent in 2006/7 – but the rate jumps to 41 per cent for Maori adults, according to Ministry of Health figures.

Professor McDonald says researchers are constantly coming up with new ideas to help smokers quit the deadly product – and labels on each cigarette could be the next.   

The public health specialist was part of a group of Canadian-based researchers who, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, first developed the notion of graphic warning labels.

Canada was the first country in the world to adopt graphic images as part of tobacco package warnings. Today, more than 60 countries covering 40 per cent of the world’s population have adopted pictorial tobacco warning requirements, a Canadian Cancer Society report found.  

Before he joined Massey University in April as the inaugural Pro Vice-Chancellor for its new College of Health, Professor McDonald undertook preliminary research on printing warning labels on cigarettes, and found smokers involved in the study overwhelming supported the concept.

“The idea is to print rings around the cigarette and label them 1-6, indicating with text, minutes of life lost, to make it clear for the average smoker every time they smoke past one of those rings, it’s equivalent to one minute of their life they may be sacrificing.”

The qualitative study surveyed 10 smokers and then preliminary sketches and mock-ups were presented.  “We found it has a profound effect on smokers. They literally have the risk under their nose, day after day, week after week, with every cigarette. It really brings the hazard home.

“I have to say of all the times I’ve done these qualitative, focus testings, I’ve never had such a response that was so consistent across smokers.”

Professor McDonald says data shows graphic images and their messages definitely deter young people from starting smoking, and have a significant impact on increasing people’s desire to quit and the likelihood they are succeed.

More research was needed on printing labels on cigarettes, but it is a concept worth investigating, he says.

Key facts:
– 18% of New Zealand adults were current smokers in 2011/12, down from 20% in 2006/07  
– The youth smoking rate dropped from 14% to 6% in the past 5 years  
– No change has been seen in the Māori smoking rate (41%) in the past 5 years
– Worldwide tobacco kills nearly 6 million people each year; 5 million from direct tobacco use and more than 600 000 non-smokers exposed to second-hand smoke
* Source: The Health of New Zealand Adults 2011/12: Key findings of the New Zealand Health Survey, Ministry of Health and World Health Organisation

Massey University.


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