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Novel initiative tests quit smoking advice inserts inside cigarette packs

Posted 15 May, 2019

A new study has found that Australian smokers would welcome a novel intervention that would put inserts containing tips and advice on how to quit smoking into their cigarette packets. 

The study, by Cancer Council Victoria, is being presented today at the Behavioural Research in Cancer Control conference in Perth.

Researchers conducted focus groups to examine responses to a series of inserts in cigarette packets designed to help smokers quit. It follows a similar initiative in Canada where inserts were first implemented in 2000 and redesigned to include images as well as text in 2012. In Canada, research found that smokers who frequently looked at the inserts were more likely to try quitting and to stay off cigarettes for at least 30 days. 

Lead researcher Dr Emily Brennan, from the Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer at Cancer Council Victoria, said pack inserts could ensure every smoker was given repeated encouragement and information to quit.

“Although the vast majority of smokers want to quit, very few of them use tools and information that will increase their chances of quitting success,” she says."

Inserts reach them at the source. Every time they open a new pack, they get a message to help them take steps towards quitting. Study participants responded positively to the practical advice in these inserts because most smokers have tried quitting and they know how difficult it can be. Inserts deliver the information and encouragement they’re looking for, and they don’t have to go out of their way to find it.”

More than 15,000 Australians are diagnosed with smoking-related cancer each year. Smoking causes 13% of all cancers in Australia and is responsible for 23% of cancer deaths. 

In the study smokers were shown a series of messages that could be included on inserts inside tobacco packets. The messages ranged from tips on how to quit smoking to benefits of giving up, such as health and financial benefits.

Study participants responded especially well to messages that focused on the financial impact and benefits to their family, and to those that provided specific tips on quitting.

It is the first time in the world the effectiveness of in-pack messages has been examined in an environment that includes tobacco plain packaging, substantial taxes on tobacco products and mass media campaigns and graphic warnings about the serious harms of smoking. 

It is hoped this research can be used to inform tobacco control policy in Australia and globally.  These findings come as the Department of Health undertakes a review of its tobacco control legislation.

“This study helps build the evidence base needed to generate policy change. One day pack inserts could be required in all cigarette and tobacco packs sold in Australia,” Dr Brennan said.

“Such a policy would ensure all smokers are exposed to advice on how to quit every time they open a new pack.”

Director of Quit Victoria Dr Sarah White welcomed the research.

“There’s no doubt graphic images and plain packaging motivate people to quit,” she said. 

“Pack inserts could capitalise on that motivation by providing supportive information and encouraging people to call the Quitline to give them the best chance of success in quitting. I think pack inserts have real potential to help people break free from their addiction to cigarettes."

Dr Brennan said further, quantitative research would be undertaken incorporating feedback received from the focus groups.

About the Behavioural Research in Cancer Control conference:

The Behavioural Research in Cancer Control conference is supported by Cancer Council Australia and will be hosted by Cancer Council WA. It runs from May 15 to 17. It brings together clinicians and researchers from across Australia to present the latest research on policies and programs that can ultimately decrease the burden of cancer.

Media release

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