Cigarette packets sold in the UK could soon carry graphic illustrations of cancer-ravaged organs.
Cancer Research UK is leading a consortium of seven European cancer research groups called on to provide evidence for the European Commission as it attempts to regulate warnings about the dangers of tobacco.
It is hoped the move, if adopted, will shock smokers into kicking the habit. A similar initiative was introduced in Canada in June 2000, with encouraging results – 63 per cent of Canadians acknowledged the new image warnings in a survey for the Canadian Department of Health.
The study, once completed in September, will be used as evidence for the proposed EU Directive On Tobacco Product Regulation, which will mark a major step forward in European tobacco control.
The research considers how to best communicate health facts related to smoking and cancer using cigarette packaging. 56 focus groups across the seven countries will examine how smokers contemplating quitting respond to current labelling compared to proposed revisions.
Jean King, Cancer Research UK’s Director of Education Funding, says: “The idea is to make smoking less stylish by depicting the damage it can do. Many smokers still perceive cigarettes as ‘cool’ to smoke and the packaging is designed by the tobacco companies to appeal to this perception.
“Cancer and the tobacco industry do not respect national borders, which is why it is vital to come up with a joint-European strategy,” she adds.
The research will be carried out at the Cancer Research UK Centre for Tobacco Control Research at the University of Strathclyde.
Centre Director Professor Gerard Hastings, says: “Tobacco labelling is a fantastically effective method of communicating with a group that face a serious health risk. This is one of the most dangerous health issues the globe has ever faced so we need to have effective communication strategies on tobacco’s dangers.
“Research has already shown that the current level of health information on cigarette packets is inadequate. Producing successful health communication campaigns is a complex process – the message can be ignored, misunderstood or rejected by the target audience – but this study will lead to one of the most focused communication strategies ever aimed at smokers,” says Professor Hastings.
Another area that will be considered in the study is the printing of helpline numbers and cessation advice on packs.
Centre for Tobacco Control Research is funded by Cancer Research UK, the Health Development Agency, Department of Health and the Health Promotion Division Wales.
The other cancer organisations taking part in the study are: The Cancer Society of Finland; Ligue National Francaise Contre le Cancer (France); German Cancer Society; Hellenic Cancer Society (Greece); Societat Catalana Prevencio del Tabaquisme (Spain); Swedish Cancer Society.
The Project is funded by the European Commission through the European Network for Smoking Prevention (ENSP).