Do health warnings on cigarette sticks dissuade smokers and non-smokers? A focus group and interview study of Australian university students

Psychol Res Behav Manag. 2019 May 13;12:361-373. doi: 10.2147/PRBM.S193754. eCollection 2019.


Introduction: Young adults are a vulnerable population for experimentation with tobacco, which can lead to lifelong addiction. In an effort to ensure reductions in tobacco use through improved health promotion materials, we explored young adults' perceptions of current Australian packaging warnings, and novel health warnings on individual cigarette sticks. Methods: Focus groups and interviews were conducted with smoking and non-smoking first-year undergraduate university students at a regional Australian university. Semi-structured questions were used to gather participant perceptions. Sixteen students participated across three focus groups, and eleven students participated in the phone interviews. Data were analyzed using thematic analysis in NVivo. Results: Six emergent themes were identified. Current cigarette packaging warnings were seen as ineffective, being disregarded by current smokers (theme 1), and seen as irrelevant by young adult smokers and non-smokers (theme 2). Several cigarette stick warnings were perceived as engaging and effective, due to the novelty of the cigarette stick as a medium (theme 3), and the proximal nature of the warnings used (theme 4). The warning depicting the financial consequences of smoking was considered the most effective, followed by the impact of smoking on personal appearance, and the "minutes of life lost" warning. Social media (theme 5), and the use of more supportive messages to assist smokers (theme 6) were considered the best next steps as tobacco control interventions. Conclusions: Supplementing packaging warnings which were seen as minimally effective in this study, using cigarette stick warnings and social media may lead to further reductions in tobacco use. New and relatable warnings such as the financial consequences of smoking and impact on personal appearance may be the most effective in dissuading young adults from smoking, particularly within the university environment.

Keywords: health behavior; health promotion; public health; tobacco control.