The gangrenous foot. The oozing artery. The cancer-riddled lungs.
The gory images you see on Australian cigarette packets still have enough scare power to deter teenagers from smoking, even though their impact is wearing off on older smokers, research by James Cook University shows.
The findings are encouraging, since most smokers pick up the habit in their teens, says study leader Aaron Drovandi.
“Teenagers are a vulnerable population and the most valuable property for tobacco manufacturers,” he says.
The team reviewed data from 19 previous studies that examined how 16,000 adolescents in total aged 11 to 19 perceived graphic health warnings on tobacco.
They found that the confronting images turned teenagers off smoking, especially when they depicted lung cancer or rotting gums.
The images were even more powerful when they were displayed on plain packaging. This is because plain packaging is less alluring and increases the visibility of the gruesome warnings, says Drovandi.
Separate research by Drovandi has found that older smokers are starting to become densensitised to graphic warnings on tobacco, which were introduced in Australia in 2006.
However, they are still worthwhile if they put younger generations off smoking, he says.
“Smoking still kills about seven million people a year,” he says.
“It’s still incredibly dangerous and nicotine addiction during the formative years is linked to more significant risks to long-term health, productivity, and life expectancy.”