Graphic warning labels on packages, bans on cigarette advertising, legislating smoke-free areas, boosting cigarette prices, and preventing smuggling and counterfeiting of tobacco products are among the most effective ways to discourage smoking, according to researchers involved in a study on international tobacco control policies.
Mandating tar and nicotine levels in cigarettes hasn’t been as effective as these other approaches, said the researchers, who’ve been investigating progress on controlling tobacco use under the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). The 151 countries that have ratified the World Health Organization-introduced treaty are required to implement its policies within a few years.
“For the first time ever, we are beginning to scientifically assess which governmental tobacco control policies are working and which ones are not,” K. Michael Cummings, chair of the department of health behavior at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, N.Y.
“In the same way that evidence-based medicine has been built from rigorous evaluation of treatment options, our goal is to contribute to the development of a sound science base for tobacco-control policies,” Cummings said.
He launched the study in four countries in 2002 and has expanded it into 15 countries with the help of 60 investigators from 17 research institutes.
The International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation study compares tobacco use behaviors in nations that have implemented tobacco control policies to countries — including the United States — that have not implemented such measures. There are between 1,000 to 2,000 participants in each country included in the study.
A number of policies are effective, including graphic warning labels on cigarette packages.
“Our research on package warnings has revealed that these warnings, especially if they are large and graphic, are more effective than anyone realized, especially in poorer countries that can’t afford expensive counter-marketing campaigns,” Cummings said.
But the European Union’s move to set maximum tar and nicotine emission standards for cigarettes has failed. The goal was to reduce the toxicity of cigarettes. However, the testing method used by the EU was flawed, and cigarette makers increased filter ventilation to pass the test, without having to reduce the toxicity of cigarettes.
“The well intentioned, but flawed EU policy has given smokers the false illusion that their cigarettes deliver less tar and nicotine, which they don’t,” Cummings said.
The research was to be presented Thursday at an American Association for Cancer Research meeting in Philadelphia.