The potential effectiveness of warning labels on cigarette packages: the perceptions of young adult Canadians

John J Koval, Jo-Anne L Aubut, Linda L Pederson, Michelle O'Hegarty, Stella S H Chan
Canadian Journal of Public Health. Revue Canadienne de Santé Publique 2005, 96 (5): 353-6

BACKGROUND: Since 1989 when health warning labels appeared on Canadian cigarette packages, the labels have changed from text only covering less than one quarter of the package to text and graphics covering over half the package. This study examines how Canadians in their 20s feel about the current graphic warning labels and their potential to prevent smoking and encourage quitting.

METHODS: Participants between 20 and 24 years of age were part of a 10-year cohort study begun when the group was in Grade 6, with the purpose of examining factors that may affect smoking. Five questions about warning labels were added to the 2002 questionnaire requesting information on perceptions of the labels and their potential impact on smoking behaviours of young adults. One item had been included in previous questionnaires.

RESULTS: 32.8% (n = 1267) of the respondents were smokers, with males (35.6%) being more likely to smoke than females (30.4%). Current smokers were less likely than experimental/ex-smokers to believe that warning labels with stronger messages would make people their age less likely to smoke. Female current smokers were more likely to think about quitting.

CONCLUSION: Despite the efforts taken in developing the labels, some young adults are skeptical about their effects. Warning labels may have to be modified to target issues that are relevant to young adults; gender differences are important in this modification. Warning labels can offer an additional component to a comprehensive tobacco control program, in that they provide health information.

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