Putting graphic warnings on the back of cigarette packs has little impact on teen smokers, according to new research.
While pictures fare slightly better than words, they are often put on the back of packs making them less visible and less effective, according to research published online in the journal Tobacco Control.
More than 1,000 11 to 16-year-olds in the UK were questioned about their response to warnings in 2008 and a further 1,000 were questioned in 2011.
Most of the teenagers in both surveys (68% to 75%) had never smoked while 17% to 22% had experimented with cigarettes, and around one in 10 were already regular smokers - defined as at least one cigarette a week.
Half of those questioned in both surveys said they had ‘often’ or ‘very often’ noticed the warnings on packs, and around one in five had read them very often or looked closely at them.
The number of teens saying the warnings put them off smoking increased between the two surveys, but not among regular smokers.
In this group, the proportion who said that the warnings stopped them from having a cigarette fell from 32% to 23%.
The teenagers’ ability to recall images depicting diseased lungs, rotten teeth and neck cancer, remained below 10% while three text warnings on the back of packs with no supporting images were recalled by less than 1% in either survey.
The authors, from the Centre for Tobacco Control Research at the University of Stirling, said: “As warnings need to be salient to be effective, positioning pictorial warnings only on the less visible reverse panel limits their impact.”
They said the fact the UK has used the same pictures since 2008 may also have increased the “wear out” factor, particularly for regular smokers.
“Positioning pictorial warnings only on the back of packs may have had a deterrent effect on never and experimental smokers, but for most measures no significant differences were observed.
“The impact on regular smokers was negligible.”