26 April 2012

Cigarette warnings prevent ex-smokers relapsing

Warnings on cigarette packages about the health hazards of smoking can help deter many ex-smokers from lighting up again, a new international study finds.


Warnings on cigarette packages about the health hazards of smoking can help deter many ex-smokers from lighting up again, a new international study finds.

One expert said he believes smokers and ex-smokers need more reminders of the ravages of smoking.

"I keep an empty package of cigarettes at hand when talking to smokers, and ask them if they look at the warnings," said Dr Len Horovitz, pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "While most say that they do, they cannot repeat more than two health risks - usually lung cancer and emphysema are the responses."

Horovitz believes that more prominent warnings - especially about non-lung-cancer conditions such as heart disease, bladder cancer and erectile dysfunction - would help more ex-smokers stay that way.

The new findings, published in the journal Tobacco Control, are based on a poll involving about 2,000 former smokers in Canada, Australia, Britain and the United States.

How the study was done

The content and graphic nature of cigarette-package warnings varies widely between these countries, the authors noted. Regardless of nationality, however, the survey found a common trend: ex-smokers who said they found anti-smoking messaging on packaging helpful were more apt to avoid relapse.

"This study provides the first evidence that health warnings can help ex-smokers stay quit," researchers led by Dr. Ron Borland of the VicHealth Centre for Tobacco Control at the Cancer Council Victoria in Carlton, Australia, said.

The team believes the anti-smoking messages "help generate reasons for resisting temptations to relapse."

In the United States, public health messaging on cigarette packaging is now the subject of considerable debate and potentially dramatic change. The FDA has already approved plans to overhaul the packaging of all cigarettes sold in the United States by replacing text-only warnings (in place since 1984) with extremely graphic cautionary images, some of which depict smoking-related disease.

New graphic images planned

Although a court battle over the FDA's plan is now underway, nine such images already have been composed, illustrating things such as a smoker exhaling through a tracheotomy hole in his neck and a mother and child enveloped in a cloud of cigarette smoke. Images would cover the top section of all cigarette packs.

One expert believes these images and warnings will help cut US smoking rates.

"Although US citizens are not routinely exposed to warning labels on cigarette packs, many have seen graphic commercials and advertisements related to the health effects of tobacco use," said Patricia Folan, director of the Center for Tobacco Control at the North Shore-LIJ Health System in Great Neck, NY. "When these types of commercials are aired, calls to state smokers' quit-lines have increased dramatically. This increase in calls indicates that the ads appear to be motivating smokers to quit."

In Canada, similar graphic warnings have been in place since 2000, covering half of each pack's surface on both sides. Since 2006, graphic warnings have covered 30 percent and 90 percent of the cover and back, respectively, of all cigarette packs sold in Australia. In the United Kingdom, text-only warnings have taken up 30 percent and 40 percent of the respective fronts and backs of all packaging.

The survey was conducted between 2002 and 2009. Smokers were tracked for a year, at which point they indicated their thoughts on package messaging exposure, as well as their current smoking status.

In all, nearly 58% of smokers who had quit remained free of cigarettes by year's end. Those who said they viewed such messages as very helpful had a relapse rate of 41%, compared with a rate of 50% among those who said the messages were not particularly helpful.

Meanwhile, another international study also published in the same issue of Tobacco Control suggests that during the next two decades the global rate of smoking will barely drop unless governments improve their anti-smoking policies.

Estimates that images will cut number of smokers

In the study, a team led by Dr David Mendez, of the department of health management and policy at the University of Michigan's School of Public Health in Ann Arbor, looked at the situation in the 60 nations that account for 90% of all smokers (and 85% of the world's population). They speculate that unless these countries' governments change course and push for effective anti-smoking initiatives by 2030, the global rate of smoking will fall by only 1.7%.

If these nations were to adopt the World Health Organization's 2008 package of anti-smoking measures, however, global smoking prevalence would drop from roughly 245 today to about 135 by 2030.

Such measures include the implementation of tobacco monitoring, second-hand smoke exposure protection, cessation assistance, publicity about health dangers, bans on cigarette advertising, and cigarette taxation.

The study authors noted that the nations with the largest smoking populations include China (28% of the world's smoking population), India (11 %), Indonesia (5%), the United States (5%) and Russia (4%).

Read more:
Benefits of giving up smoking

More information

For more on the proposed U.S. cigarette-package warning labels, head to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

(Copyright © 2012 HealthDay. All rights reserved.)


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