Do Warnings on Cigarette Packs Work?

Quit smoking incentive may come from a cigarette pack warning label

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Ex-smokers who notice the warning labels on cigarette packs are less likely to start smoking again.  How much of a difference do these really warning labels make for ex-smokers?

A four-country survey asks ex-smokers about cigarette warning labels over the course of 5 years to determine if they make any impact on whether or not they return to the smoking life.

Warning labels may not be 100 percent effective, but they do appear to make a difference.

"Encourage people to notice warning labels on cigarette packs."

Researchers from the VicHealth Centre for Tobacco Control, The Cancer Council Victoria, Australia; the Department of Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior, University of South Carolina, Columbia; and the Department of Health Studies and Gerontology, University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada combined their data for a longitudinal, wide reaching study about tobacco warning labels.

1936 recent ex-smokers were asked to take the International Tobacco Control 4-Country policy evaluation survey. Based on their information, smoking relapse trends in the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and Australia from 2002 to 2007 were determined in comparison to anti-smoking warning labels on cigarette packs.

People that have never smoked report that warning labels have helped them choose not to start. However, the focus of this study is to determine how well the labels work to keep ex-smokers from relapsing.

41 percent of ex-smokers stated that the warning labels on the packs made them ‘a lot’ more likely to not return to smoking. 57.5 percent of the group had not returned to smoking a year later.

Participants were asked about their interactions and thoughts on the warning labels. While half of the relapse group said that the warning labels didn’t make any difference, relapse rates were highest among people who were constantly surrounded by others who smoked.

It’s difficult to perceive a warning label’s message when surrounded by living, breathing smokers.

In the conclusion of the study the authors state: “This study provides the first longitudinal evidence that health warnings can help ex-smokers [from relapsing]…Warning labels remind [smokers] of their reasons for quitting…Ex-smokers should be encouraged to use pack warnings to counter urges to resume smoking.”

While warning labels aren’t going to reach every non-smoker, smoker, or ex-smoker with their message, the fact that they have an impact on any percentage of these groups is significant for the future of warning label requirements.

This study was published online in Tobacco Control, April 2012. Funding for the study came from grants from Roswell Park Transdisciplinary Tobacco Use Research Center, Roswell Park Cancer Institute, National Cancer Institute of the United States, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Canadian Institutes of Health Research, National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia, Cancer Research UK, Canadian Tobacco Control Research Initiative, Centre for Behavioral Research and Program Evaluation, National Cancer Institute of Canada/Canadian Cancer Society. No conflicts of interest were found.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 23, 2012
Last Updated:
May 7, 2012