Pictorial health warning labels can increase beliefs and knowledge about the negative health consequences of smoking, says a study that was published in the recent edition of International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
The study included 500 smokers and non-smokers each from four countries including India and Bangladesh.
According to the report, the study is part of a larger study that is being conducted in seven countries to examine responses to health warnings and cigarette packaging across different cultural and tobacco control environments.
“The findings clearly indicates that viewing health warnings on tobacco consumption increased beliefs that smoking caused some of the health effects depicted in the warnings,” said Dr PC Gupta, director, Healis – Sekhsaria Institute for Public Health, who was part of the study from India.
The study is said to be among the first to experimentally test the influence of viewing relevant pictorial health warnings on respondents’ beliefs about the health effects of smoking in non-Western countries.
As a part of the study, the respondents were asked if they believed that smoking lead to lung cancer, harm to unborn babies, mouth cancer, throat cancer, heart disease, wrinkling and aging of the skin, stroke, and impotence in male smokers, gangrene, emphysema and death.
The study results showed that while the knowledge of lung cancer, death, and harm to unborn babies was very high in all the four study sites, there was less knowledge on effect of smoking on other health impacts that smoking can have like impotence and gangrene.
“Health warnings are extremely important in providing knowledge about lesser known health effects of smoking like impotence among men and wrinkling of skin and convincing the smoker about such effects. Therefore health warnings need to include a wider spectrum of health effects in addition to cancer and heart disease,” said Dr Gupta.
Previous ITC surveys in the study countries have suggested that knowledge of many specific health effects of smoking is lacking.
India implemented pictorial health warnings on cigarette packages as of 31 May 2009, and was also the first country in the world to implement pictorial health warnings for smokeless tobacco products.
“Text-only warnings are perceived as less effective than the pictorial styles. Graphic warnings are given higher effectiveness ratings than symbolic or testimonial warnings. Tobacco is the only consumer product that has no good use whatsoever apart of killing every third consumer. Tobacco is attributed cause of 50% cancers in India and majority of lung or heart diseases. Pictorial warnings are very effective and plain packaging is the need of the hour,” said Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi, Professor, Head and Neck Surgeon Tata Memorial Hospital.