awareness Pictorial warnings 55,000 Americans will develop cancer of the head and neck (most of which is preventable) and nearly 13,000 of them will die

By Live Dr - Sat Jun 06, 5:38 am

GRIM PICTURE: Pictorial warnings are likely to produce greater awareness, especially among illiterates.

If packaging is one of the effective means to entice a person buy a product, it can also be effectively used to ensure that the person shuns it. Pictorial warning on all tobacco products that has become mandatory from May 31 is based on this simple logic.

There is overwhelming evidence from countries that have implemented pictorial warnings on cigarette packets to prove this point. In Brazil, 67 per cent of smokers wanted to quit smoking as a result of pictorial warning. And in the case of Canada, nearly half the number of smokers had indicated that the warnings had increased their motivation to quit.

Canada was the first country to introduce pictorial warnings way back in 2001. Brazil implemented it the very next year.

But many people already know that cigarettes cause lung cancer, so how do pictorial warnings suddenly make smokers kick the habit? Gory pictures of diseases do the trick. Unlike the statutory warning that smoking is injurious to health, graphic pictures are a lot more effective.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), shocking and fear-arousing pictures are the best ones. A Canadian study found that participants expected or wanted to be shocked by, or emotionally affected in some way by the warnings, even if they generated unpleasant feelings such as fear, disgust, sadness or worry. The emotional impact of a warning determined whether a person wanted to quit smoking.

Similar responses from people were seen in other countries too. In the UK, people voted the most for pictures that graphically showed the negative health impacts. A six-year study conducted in Brazil found that the most unpleasant and stimulating images were the ones that graphically illustrated the physical harm or suffering.

A study done in Australia found that apart from creating awareness, pictorial warnings attracted attention, made it difficult to ignore the harmful effects of smoking, and render the health messages ineffective.

Dual purpose

Pictorial warnings also serve another purpose. While many people are aware that smoking causes lung cancer, very few are aware of the extent of harm that tobacco causes and all the possible diseases from its use.

A study undertaken in India found that fewer than half of school and college students in Gujarat, a tobacco growing State, knew the association between tobacco and gutkha and oral cancer. In China, only 17 per cent knew that smoking causes stroke, and only 37 per cent knew that smoking can cause coronary heart disease.

Studies undertaken in several countries that have introduced pictorial warnings on cigarette packets have found that they can be an extremely cost-effective public health measure for governments.

Singapore, which introduced the warnings in 2004, found that 71 per cent of smokers knew more about the health effects of smoking as a result of these warnings. It was 58 per cent in the case of Canada and 54 per cent in the case of Brazil.

In the case of India, pictorial warnings are very likely to create greater awareness, especially among the illiterates. The awareness created can jump many fold within a very short span of time, provided the government ensures compliance by companies.

In the U.S. this year more than 55,000 Americans will develop cancer of the head and neck (most of which is preventable) and nearly 13,000 of them will die from it. The American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS) reports that many of these cancer-related deaths are caused by the use of smokeless tobacco products, like chewing tobacco and snuff.

Despite the indication that cigarette smoking is the most dangerous use of tobacco, a study released this month funded by the National Institutes on Drug Abuse, the National Cancer Institute, and the American Cancer Society suggests that users of smokeless tobacco are exposed to higher levels of cancer-causing chemicals than traditional smokers. The research results were published in the journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

“Due to an increased awareness of the dangers of smoking, many Americans have made the recommended choice to quit smoking,” says Marion Couch, M.D., PhD of the AAO-HNS committee on head and neck surgery and associate professor of otolaryngology at the UNC Cancer Hospital. “Unfortunately, many of these people switch to smokeless tobacco products thinking it is safer when they are merely changing the site of the cancer risk from their lungs to their mouth.”


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