Updated 04 September 2019

Could health warnings printed on individual cigarettes help people quit smoking?

New research shows that health warnings printed on individual cigarettes are much more effective at reducing smoking.

There are many reasons people want to quit smoking. Whether it's digging a hole in your pocket, or if you're worried about the harmful effects, kicking the habit can be very difficult.

A wide variety of methods are available if you want to quit, but researchers found that health warnings printed on individual cigarettes may be especially effective in helping people to quit. 

A greater impact

The paper, published in Addiction Research was written by experts from the University of Sterling's Social Media Marketing team. They examined the perception of smokers seeing the "Smoking Kills" warning on individual cigarettes, compared to the same message only appearing on packs.

120 smokers from Glasgow 16 and older were put into 20 focus groups. In every group, most participants felt that warnings on individual cigarettes would have a greater impact on them and other smokers.

Smokers felt that this new approach could potentially discourage smoking among younger individuals, those who only recently started smoking, as well as non-smokers. Some of the participants felt that a warning on each individual cigarette would emphasise the message over a longer period of time, due to the fact that it becomes visible every time someone takes a cigarette out of a pack, leaves it in an ashtray or takes a puff.

The fact that the warning was more visible to participants was reported to be off-putting because it constantly brought up negative images. Especially females perceived the warnings as depressing, frightening and worrying.

Off-putting for young people

The warnings form part of the Scottish Government's tobacco-control action plan, which aims to raise a "tobacco-free generation". As part of the initiative, they want to make changes to the "colour, composition and/or warning messages on each stick".

Dr Crawford Moodie, lead researcher in the study, said, "The consensus was that individual cigarettes emblazoned with warnings would definitely be off-putting for young people, those starting to smoke and non-smokers." Furthermore, "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."

Cancer Research UK's prevention expert, Professor Linda Bauld, 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."

The study also showed that using tactic such as making cigarettes unappealing could prove to be an effective method to help people quit smoking, or not start at all.

Image credit: iStock