A recent study by the University of Otago in New Zealand (NZ) has called for an update to the warning labels on tobacco packaging to enhance their effectiveness in supporting individuals to quit smoking. 

The study involved 27 roll-your-own tobacco users from Dunedin and Wellington in the country, who provided insights into their reactions to the graphic warnings on tobacco packs. 

According to the researchers, the current on-pack warning labels on tobacco products require a refresh to help motivate and support smoking cessation. 

Research co-leader Professor Janet Hoek, from the ASPIRE Aotearoa Research Centre at the University of Otago, Wellington, reveals that although the graphic pack warnings have been successful in communicating health risks, they now need to be updated.  

Participants in the study expressed that the warnings had diminished in impact and admitted to actively avoiding them.  

Many also downplayed the risks of smoking, believing they would not be personally affected. 

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ASPIRE Aotearoa Centre research fellow Lani Teddy said: “We know from other research that avoidance and counter-argument often indicate greater engagement with warnings; however, our findings suggest we could engage people who smoke more effectively.  

“The warnings have not been refreshed since their introduction in 2018 and it is timely to think about new approaches.” 

The study’s participants highlighted alternative themes that could be more motivating such as the cost of smoking, the stress of addiction, and the impact on loved ones.  

Hoek suggests that diversifying warning content and providing supportive information could be more effective than messages that only instil fear. 

“Given on-pack warnings can arouse fear, it’s important that we show people the benefits of quitting and provide tips that might help them become smoke-free,” Hoek stated. 

The professor also urged the NZ national government to consider these findings for policy development to help reduce smoking rates.  

“At the very least, the government should maximise the impact that existing measures, such as on-pack warnings, could have and complement these with advice that will help people quit,” said Hoek. 

The findings of this study have been published in the international journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research. 

In September last year, the Australian Government proposed new legislation to update and improve the graphic warnings on the packaging of cigarettes to reduce the country’s national smoking rate.