Friday 4 May 2012

Plain Packs Will Make Warnings More Visible ... So What?

Michael Siegel - an American anti-smoking advocate who is more than a trifle irritated by much of his own movement's modern practices - last week highlighted more evidence that gory pictures on packets are nothing more than a psychopathic wet dream for tobacco controllers.
This study adds to a growing body of evidence that the graphic cigarette warning labels which are the centerpiece of the FDA's strategy to reduce tobacco use are likely to be only marginally effective. 
This research adds to a body of psychology and neurophysiology research which suggests that graphic warning labels on cigarette packages will have very little effect in either deterring smoking among existing smokers who are addicted to cigarettes or among youth. 
While almost no scientific studies support the hypothesis that graphic warning labels will cause smokers to quit, a wide range of evidence suggests that this intervention is unlikely to be very effective.
It's not the first time, either. He said the same back in August 2011 commenting on a study examining their effect in the UK.
The following were the major findings of the study regarding the effects of the graphic warning labels on smoking behavior: 
1. There was no observed effect of the graphic warning labels on cigarette smoking prevalence. 
2. There was no observed effect of the warning labels on cigarette consumption. 
3. There was no observed effect of the warning labels on smoking reduction (measured as forgoing cigarettes due to the warning labels). 
Thus, there was no observed effect of the new warning labels on any aspect of smoking behavior. 
The report summarizes its findings as follows: "The only significant change in behaviour was that more adult smokers reported using a technique to avoid seeing the messages. It therefore remains to be seen whether these emotional responses are translated into behavioural change in the future. Among young people, the impact of picture health warnings was negligible."
All of which is quite amusing, since one of the prime selling points for plain packaging is that making the disgusting images larger will instantly result in more quit attempts and a reduction of youth smokers. According to ASH, anyway [pdf].
Plain packaging would increase the effectiveness of health warnings and reduce misconceptions about the risks of smoking 
Although there is good evidence to show that large bold written health warnings are effective in motivating smokers to quit 21 and that picture warnings are even more effective than written warnings 22 [...]
The 'good evidence' (21) for gore being brilliant at making people quit was a press release by the Department of Health, who kinda have an interest in advancing that opinion (it's no longer checkable - plus ça change with these people), while the 'proof' that pictures are more effective than words is quite laughable.
Findings: Smokers in the four countries exhibited significant gaps in their knowledge of the risks of smoking. Smokers who noticed the warnings were significantly more likely to endorse health risks, including lung cancer and heart disease. In each instance where labelling policies differed between countries, smokers living in countries with government mandated warnings reported greater health knowledge. For example, in Canada, where package warnings include information about the risks of impotence, smokers were 2.68 (2.41–2.97) times more likely to agree that smoking causes impotence compared to smokers from the other three countries.
Ace! Those contacted in a phone poll who had seen graphic warnings were more likely to understand the dangers. Err, but they were all - significantly - still "smokers".

Unfortunately for ASH, their special way of defining 'evidence' doesn't change reality. Quite apart from the studies highlighted by Siegel above, since the UK mandated tumours and coal miners' lungs on cigarette packets, just about no-one has given up smoking as a result. Anywhere.

How do we know this? Well, from the font of all tobacco knowledge, of course ... ASH's own website in October [pdf].
Coinciding with the start of the economic downturn in 2008 (the year when picture warnings were introduced, DP), over the past few years the decline in smoking rates has stalled.
So, the incontrovertible fact that making packs grotesque has had no effect whatsoever leads ASH now to assert that making them bigger - by eliminating logos and branding - will most definitely work. That's some strange kind of logic. As usual with tobacco control tax spongers, it's also fatally flawed, as a study last year on reactions to disgusting warnings concluded.
"We noticed in our collection of anti-tobacco public service announcements a number of ads that contained very disturbing images, such as cholesterol being squeezed from a human artery, a diseased lung, or a cancer-riddled tongue," Leshner said. "Presumably, these messages are designed to scare people so that they don't smoke. It appears that this strategy may backfire." 
"Simply trying to encourage smokers to quit by exposing them to combined threatening and disgusting visual images is not an effective way to change attitudes and behaviors," Bolls said. "Effective communication is more complicated than simply showing a disgusting picture. That kind of communication will usually result in a defensive avoidance response where the smoker will try to avoid the disgusting images, not the cigarettes.
Which is kinda the point, isn't it?

Furthermore, the EU chip in with a leap of logic which should be framed and placed in the Tate Gallery (or European equivalent) as the fine art of self-delusion.

In their consultation of September 2010 [pdf page 138], they assessed the 'success' of graphic warnings as part of the big sell of plain packaging.
Some evidence from the UK that the introduction of pictorial labels on all tobacco products would produce a drop of 0.5% in tobacco consumption in the long term or a drop of 75% of 0.5% if the pictorial labels are only applied to cigarette packs (note: because 25% of UK smokers consumer tobacco products other than cigarettes).
From this (the only fleeting mention they could trawl from anywhere in Europe) they conclude that increasing graphic warning size and visibility will have an exponentially greater chance of stopping people smoking. Though how multiplying a zero effect - which we now know to be the case - by any number will be useful, is anyone's guess.

The EU's problem is that they used a statistic from the 2006 Department of Health consultation on graphic warnings which has since been proven by actual events to be a wild fantasy.
It is estimated that smoking levels in the UK would decrease by around 0.5% if picture warnings were introduced.
The EU using an estimate which hasn't been borne out in the real world? Say it ain't so! No, no, don't throw your hands in the air laughing just yet as it's even worse than that.

The EU was estimating their figures from an estimate now shown categorically to have been ridiculous ... which in turn was copied from an estimate in 2001.
However, without any specific evidence on impacts on smoking levels, we will assume that the introduction of picture warnings will have a similar effect to that predicted for written warnings: to decrease the number of smokers by 0.5% in the long term.
In short, because there was no evidence at all, they were guessing ... by taking their previous guess and just guessing again!

These are lies embedded on lies ... and embedded again on lies ... we are talking here. The distance between the real world and anti-smoker flights of fancy is quite remarkable.

So, would the elimination of branding - and therefore the increased size of ugly pictures - lead to a decrease in smoking? Well, it wouldn't seem like it.

Statistics prove that the current warnings have done nothing to reduce smoking; there is no evidence that there is any potential for them to do so now or in the future; people think they look ugly but carry on being smokers regardless; the EU anticipate that increasing their size will multiply nothing by nothing; and it was all based on a prediction plucked out of the air anyway.

Faced with overwhelming evidence of failure such as this, most organisations would try something else. But those obsessed with attacking smokers and tobacco companies are not blessed with such wisdom.

They just keep babbling utter shite to a political class who are quite incapable, or unwilling, to do anything but swallow it alongside a fruity tax-subsidised bottle of Chablis.


smoker said... evidence points to the fact that the 'warnings' are there to stigmatize us. Non-smokers - who see the warnings as well - are to be converted into anti-smokers.

Smoking Hot said...

Death cigarettes used your ultimate demise by their use in their marketing to sell the product. That made the compulsory gov health warnings on them look pathetic.   

ChrisBro said...

Para 11 of the Plain Packaging consultation -"Health warnings have high reach and frequency of exposure among smokers, a 20 pack a day smoker potentially being exposed to these warnings over 7000 times per year."
Ffs. isn't that enough? 
Rearrange the words - contempt familiarity & breeds.
You suggest "the EU anticipate that increasing their size will multiply nothing by nothing;"  but surely they are multiplying a negative effect by a positive and there will be increased contempt for their actions.

Lyn Ladds said...

Have said before and will say again, human nature being what it is, the more you 'see' something the less you see!  Does any smoker, or even non smoker, for that matter, even see the warnings or the pictures any more?  I doubt it.

Then there is the other issue about life.  My daughter, a non smoker, saw a 19 year old colleague walk out of work at the end of her shift the other week.  She walked to the bus stop and dropped dead!  Extremely sad and there were no signs that there was anything wrong with her.

As a result of this, my daughter who is 30 next month has radically changed her view on life and now has decided to live for the day as it could just as easily be her who (God forbids) drops dead tomorrow.  Her final comment to me after she had told me about this tragedy was why worry, if you enjoy something you may as well have ir/do it because in the end it is extremely doubtful it will make any difference, when your number is up, it's up no matter what you do.

Anyone else think like this?  I know I do.

Lyn Ladds said...

Should have finished off by saying, therefore, no matter what the likes of corrupt bodies like ASH, the BMA, BHF, CRUK or government do or say, when so many people have this view on life and death, their stupid and costly (mostly to us, the taxpayer) ideas will achieve extremely little, if anything at all!

Mr A said...

@ Lyn.  Admittedly it could just be enhanced reporting altering perception, but I do find it odd how many young people have been drooping dead of cardiac arrests lately - not only young but "fit."  There was Muamba obviously (who survived), that Italian footballer, the 30 year old runner at the London Marathon, some Olympic hopeful a few days ago (a swimmer) and a 12 year old kid who dies during P.E.  

As I say, this could just be focussed reporting and/or congenital heart defects.  Initially I thought it could be due to steroid use.  But a 12 year old kid?  Very strange...

Lyn Ladds said...

Absolutely, Mr A.

In our small town and an outlying local village there have been 2 young teenagers in the last couple of months, aged 14 and 15, I believe, one of whom dropped dead on the football pitch and the other who died shortly after getting home from playing football.

This was only, as far as I am aware, reported in our local press.

Perhaps football and other sports should be banned?  It seems to me they are more harmful to the young, in particular, than smoking is!  After all, youngsters who start smoking don't tend to drop dead for a good many years and some even make it into retirement and their dotage!

JonathanBagley said...

Quite brilliant piece of work.

Bucko TheMoose said...

If the decline in smoking stalled at the time when picture health warnings were introduced, that means the pictures actually increased smoking by the amount which it would have continued to decline without the pictures.

Does that make any sense?

Dick_Puddlecote said...

I'm sure that is a covert benefit to anti-smokers, not that they'll ever admit it. 

Dick_Puddlecote said...

Makes perfect sense to me, Bucko. It was once said by a medical type that, by blaming so many cancers on secondhand smoke, anti-smokers were diverting attention away from what is really the cause of many of them, killing thousands in the process.

It's certainly true that their stance on snus, for example, is arguably responsible for hundreds of thousands of early deaths (by their own way of measuring these things). 

junican41 said...


I think that we have mentioned this before. I buy fags from Majorca which have the pictures on. I no longer even notice that they are there - I merely open the packet as usual. That is why I feel no need for a cig case or anything of that nature. As far as I am concerned, the pictures don't exist.

lleweton said...

I don't look at them because of the possible 'nocebo' effect - opposite of placebo.I do wonder whether they may actually worry people into developing disease or may trigger any potential for depression, which itself may open the way to physical illness - all of which is contrary to the Hippocratic oath in my view. However, as a survivor of radical prostatectomy I am amused by the graphic warnings on pipe tobacco packets of danger to my baby, wrinkling of my skin and impotence. Hey ho. These people have spoiled my old age, especially as they have sabotaged pubs. But, as my wife points out, our declining years are greatly more comfortable than those of our ancestors, as any examination of workhouse records will show. But I would love to live to see these killjoys routed  and, especially, our traditional pubs restored to vibrant life. 

Michael J. McFadden said...

Excellent analysis/summary of the "research" Dick!  And I think the point made by "smoker" and your response to it are right on the money too.  As we heard in the interview the other day with the ASHite on the radio they are obsessed with this idea of tobacco being "unique" and the picture warnings simply help to reinforce that.  The "uniqueness" then encourages the stigmatization and denormalization that they desire.  Without that S & D they wouldn't be able to implement the further stages of their program in more oppressive taxation, medical and job discrimination, family and home interventions and control, and beyond.