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Warnings on individual cigarettes could reduce smoking

Individual warnings would be off-putting for young people, those starting to smoke, and non-smokers

Ingrid Torjesen

Friday, 30 August 2019

Printing health warnings on individual cigarettes could help reduce smoking, suggests research* published in Addiction Research and Theory.

Experts from the Institute of Social Marketing at the University of Stirling examined smokers' perceptions of the warning “Smoking kills” on individual cigarettes - as opposed to the message only appearing on packs.


They canvassed the opinion of 120 smokers, aged 16 and over, in 20 focus groups held in Edinburgh and Glasgow in 2015, and found that smokers thought that the innovative approach has the potential to discourage smoking among young people, those starting to smoke, and non-smokers.

Participants felt that a warning on each cigarette would prolong the health message, as it would be visible when taken from a pack, lit, left in an ashtray, and with each draw, thus making avoidant behaviour more difficult.

The visibility of the warning to others was perceived as off-putting for some because it was associated with a negative image. Within several female groups, the warnings were viewed as depressing, worrying and frightening; with it suggested that people would not feel good smoking cigarettes displaying a warning.

The possibility of warnings on cigarettes is included in the Scottish government's tobacco-control action plan, Raising Scotland's Tobacco-free Generation. It suggests changes to "colour, composition and/or warning messages on each stick".

The Canadian government have also held a consultation on the proposals and published their findings earlier this month.

"The consensus was that individual cigarettes emblazoned with warnings would be off-putting for young people, those starting to smoke, and non-smokers," said researcher team, led Dr Crawford Moodie. "This study suggests that the introduction of such warnings could impact the decision-making of these groups. It shows that this approach is a viable policy option and one which would - for the first time - extend health messaging to the consumption experience."

Professor Linda Bauld, a prevention expert at Cancer Research UK, which funded the research, said: "Too many young people are still taking up smoking. Government anti-smoking campaigns and tax rises on cigarettes remain the most effective methods to stop young people starting smoking, but we need to continue to explore innovative ways to deter them from using cigarettes to ensure that youth smoking rates continue to drop.

"This study shows that tactics like making the cigarettes themselves unappealing could be an effective way of doing this."


*Moodie C, Rachel O’Donnell R, Fleming J, et al. Extending health messaging to the consumption experience: a focus group study exploring smokers’ perceptions of health warnings on cigarettes. Addiction Research and Theory. Published online: 29 Aug 2019. DOI: 10.1080/16066359.2019.1653861

Image courtesty of Addiction Research and Theory (CC BY 4.0)

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