Graphic images fail to deter smokers
About two-thirds of adult Canadian smokers surveyed earlier this year said that graphic new warnings on cigarette packages weren't "effective" in getting them to either to smoke less or give up the habit.
Teenaged smokers polled on the subject weren't much more impressed. Only half said the new warnings -- which include colour pictures of diseased lungs and rotten teeth --were effective in getting them to try to quit smoking.
The results are contained in an Environics poll commissioned by Health Canada, the federal department that ordered tobacco manufacturers a year ago to place the new warnings on their packs.
Although the findings appear to call into question the effectiveness of the controversial new warnings, Health Canada has a different view.
Murray Kaiserman, director of research in Health Canada's office of tobacco control, said in an interview the main purpose of the warnings was to grab smokers' attention and inform them of the health risks. Indeed, the polls found that a strong majority of smokers did, at least, read the warnings and found them to be accurate.
So why aren't more smokers quitting? Mr. Kaiserman said the survey was conducted only three months after the new warnings began appearing on some packs and a delayed reaction is normal.
"We weren't expecting great numbers to quit as a result of the messages in the short term," said Mr. Kaiserman. "We're dealing with a lot of smokers who are entrenched in their smoking behaviour.
"What really happens here is there is a lag. You get this information, it takes a while to register and be absorbed. It takes a while to take action. That's our view. Only time will tell, obviously."
Environics conducted nation-wide polls in late March-early April of two groups: Canadian adults (smokers and non-smokers), as well as youths aged 12-18 (smokers and non-smokers).
Among the smokers, the firm surveyed 1,015 adults and 1,003 youths. The margin of error was was 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
Among the findings.
- 62 per cent of adult smokers (and 49 per cent of youth smokers) said the new warnings were not effective in getting them to try to quit smoking.
- 65 per cent of adult smokers (and 53 per cent of youths) said the warnings were not effective in getting them to smoke less.
- 55 per cent of adult smokers (and 43 per cent of youths) said the warnings were not effective in increasing their "desire to quit."
- 56 per cent of adult smokers (and 55 per cent of youths) said the warnings were not effective in getting them to smoke less around others.
- 29 per cent of adult smokers said they looked at or read cigarette pack warnings several times a day, 17 per cent once a day, 13 per cent less than once a week, and 16 per cent never.
- 15 per cent of all youths surveyed looked at the messages several times a day, 14 per cent once a day, 22 per cent less than once a week, and 13 per cent never.
- Only a bare majority of adult smokers (54 per cent) said the warnings were effective in "informing" them about the "health effects of cigarette smoking." By comparison, 74 per cent of youth smokers said the warnings were effective in providing the information about risks.
Mr. Kaiserman said it's not surprising that adults are more immune to the effects of warnings than youths.
"There is a cognitive dissonance. It's a well-known phenomenon in smoking that somebody else will have this problem -- not me."
By comparison, he said, "a lot of (youth) are experimenting. They're not really full-fledged smokers. So information and efforts to get them to quit have a much larger impact."