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Tobacco health warning messages on plain cigarette packs and in television campaigns: a qualitative study with Australian socioeconomically disadvantaged smokers


Television advertisements, packaging regulations and health warning labels (HWLs) are designed to communicate anti-smoking messages to large number of smokers. However, only a few studies have examined how high smoking prevalence groups respond to these warnings. This study explored how socioeconomically disadvantaged smokers engage with health risk and cessation benefit messages. Six focus groups were conducted over September 2012–April 2013 with adult clients of welfare organizations in regional New South Wales, Australia who were current smokers (n = 51).

Participants discussed HWLs, plain packaging and anti-smoking television advertisements. Discussions were audio-taped, transcribed verbatim and analysed using thematic analysis. Highly emotive warnings delivering messages of negative health effects were most likely to capture the attention of the study participants; however, these warning messages did not prompt quit attempts and participants were sceptical about the effectiveness of cessation programmes such as telephone quitlines. Active avoidance of health warning messages was common, and many expressed false and self-exempting beliefs towards the harms of tobacco. Careful consideration of message content and medium is required to communicate the anti-smoking message to disadvantaged smokers who consider themselves desensitized to warnings. Health communication strategies should continue to address false beliefs about smoking and educate on cessation services that are currently underutilized.

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