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Adolescents’ response to text-only tobacco health warnings: results from the 2008 UK Youth Tobacco Policy Survey

Crawford Moodie, Anne Marie MacKintosh, Dave Hammond
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/eurpub/ckp199 463-469 First published online: 3 December 2009

Abstract

Background: As of June 2009 most (89%) European Union member states continue to use mandated text-only health warnings on tobacco products. This study assessed adolescent (aged 11–16 years) perceptions of and reactions to these text warnings on cigarette packs in the UK. Methods: Data comes from wave five of the cross-sectional Youth Tobacco Policy Survey in 2008. A total of 1401 adolescents were recruited and health warnings were assessed in terms of salience (noticing, reading), comprehension and credibility, memorability (recall), depth of processing (contemplating, discussing) and persuasiveness (put off smoking, make more likely to stop). Smokers were also asked about behavioural compliance (foregoing cigarettes due to warnings, avoidance of warnings) and perceptions of harm from their smoking (to indirectly assess possible knowledge gained from warnings). Results: Despite moderately high salience of warnings, memorability and, in particular, depth of processing was quite low, with warnings only sometimes thought about and very rarely discussed. Warnings were however considered comprehensible, credible and a reasonable deterrent for occasional and never smokers. Additionally, a third of regular smokers indicated that, in the last month, warnings had stopped them from having a cigarette. However, only 6% of smokers indicated that warnings made them forego cigarettes frequently. Conclusion: Text warnings help to communicate the dangers associated with smoking and, resultantly, prompt a small number of smokers to forgo cigarettes and take action to avoid warnings, but depth of processing is low and warnings do not appear to be achieving their full potential among smokers.

  • adolescents
  • health warnings
  • tobacco
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