Features Thursday, October 23, 2014 - 05:30
Siddharth Mohan Nair| The News Minute | October 20, 2014 | 4.25 pm IST Smoking cigarettes isn't good for one's health, that's a given. But can smokers be convinced to kick the habit? Will graphic pictorial earnings help to dissuade them?  The Indian government has mandated that cigarette boxes should have 85% of their surface area filed with graphic health warnings. The new rule will kick in from April 2015, currently 40 per cent of the surface area on one side of the pack has to display the warnings. It is not just India, Europe had decided earlier this year to include ultra-graphic health warnings by 2016. The European Parliament has also decided to ban any flavouring of the cigarette to such an extent that gives tobacco a different distinct flavour. Europe decided to strengthen rules so that smokers knew what exactly is in store for them.   Canada was the first country, in 2001, to begin the practice of having graphic health warnings on the boxes. India had started the practice in 2009. In the U.S.,plans for ultragraphic health-advisory-labels was dropped after the tobacco industry challenged them in court. Some countries have just plain packaging. In many countries across the world there is a big tussle going on between tobacco makers and governments about what should be written on cigarette packs. So do bigger and 'gory' health warnings have any impact on smokers?  Many studies in fact say yes. Big warnings plant the first seed of doubt Cigarette warning labels can influence a smoker to try to quit even when the smoker is trying to avoid seeing the labels, according to a survey of thousands of adult smokers in four countries published by the American Psychological Association in 2014.  The survey even recommended that policymakers should make such warnings larger and more graphic as noticing the warnings may be the first step toward getting smokers to think about and attempt to quit. Warnings act as intervention 'Impact of the graphic Canadian warning labels on adult smoking behaviour', a study done in 2003 found that graphic cigarette warning labels serve as an effective population based smoking cessation intervention. Graphic warnings reduced smoking rates in Canada A study in the scientific journal Tobacco Control in 2013 put forward evidence that graphic warnings reduced smoking rates in Canada by 12 to 20 percent from 2000 to 2009.  The study concluded that the impact of graphic warnings on smoking rates in the U.S. would have been 33 to 53 times larger than it was estimated, and US should have introduced warnings much earlier. Using words like cancer impacts smokers better European Commission studies show that when words like “cancer” were used, it had a comparatively better impact on the smokers than the words like “tar,” “nicotine,” “carbon monoxide,” etc. A study by the World Health Organization found that it was through the boxes that the warning were most read than even by television or other sources of information. The study also found that people were now almost desensitized to the written warnings and that the warnings now ‘blended into’ the packaging. A study conducted in Harvard showed that “text-only cigarette warnings have been repeatedly characterized as unlikely to be noticed or have an impact” lesser than graphic health warnings. A survey conducted by the EC showed that 76% of the respondents were in favour of inserting picture based warnings on boxes. The survey also showed that the young tended to buy cigarettes which were designed to be made attractive like packaging and taste. It was also found that the graphic based warning was more motivating for people to quit smoking. Also a study conducted by ITC in 2006 showed that there were larger number of smokers who wanted more warnings to be displayed on boxes than people who wanted less warning to be displayed. With efforts like these the EC aims to reduce the number of smokers by 2.4 million over five years.