A12.1.8 Future directions for warnings

It is well established that smokers do not fully understand the breadth or likelihood of smoking-related illnesses1-3 and that graphic health warnings help to increase this understanding.3, 4 New evidence emerges all the time about the health effects of smoking, so there is much yet to be communicated to Australian smokers. For this reason, Australia's Preventative Health Taskforce has called for a new and more responsive system for warning consumers of tobacco products about new and emerging risks. This could occur via cigarette packet warnings but also could include package inserts, warnings on a website or at point of sale or warnings in the media.5, 6

In its response to the recommendations of the Preventative Health Taskforce,7 the Australian Government stated:

'The current graphic health warnings on tobacco packages are being reviewed and upgraded following an evaluation in 2009. Consideration will be given to enlarging the updated warnings alongside the implementation of plain packaging of tobacco products.i Current Office of Best Practice Regulation requirements are that regulations of this kind are reviewed every five years. As part of the current review of graphic health warnings, the Government will investigate options for:


  • the Chief Medical Officer to trigger an update of health warnings in between should this be indicated by emerging evidence; and
  • the Australian National Preventive Health Agency to issue updated fact sheets and other communication materials, with associated media alerts, when new evidence on health impact of smoking emerges.'ii

In the US, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009iii has granted the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) power to regulate tobacco products, including packaging and labelling regulations. While the provisions of the Act concerning warning labels on cigarettes is now subject to a court order8 it is interesting that the Act gave discretion to the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to revise the first specified set of warnings if the change would '... promote greater public understanding of the risks associated with tobacco products' (Section 202).

i Since adopted by the Government and enacted through the Competition and Consumer (Tobacco) Information Standard, 2011. Available from: http://www.comlaw.gov.au/Details/F2011L02766

ii See Australian Government, 2010, National Health Reform: Taking preventative action. Available from: http://yourhealth.gov.au/internet/yourhealth/publishing.nsf/Content/take-prev-action-toc~take-prev-action-tob-recom-ch6~take-prev-action-tob-recom-ch6.5

iii For further details about administration of the Act, see http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/PublicHealthFocus/ucm168412.htm

Relevant news and research

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1. Weinstein N. Accuracy of smokers' risk perceptions. Annals of Behavioral Medicine 1998;20(2):135–40. Available from: http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/apl/cntr/1999/00000001/A00100s1/art00020

2. Weinstein N and Klein W. Resistance of personal risk perceptions to debiasing interventions. Health Psychology 1995;14(2):132–40. Available from: http://psycnet.apa.org/index.cfm?fa=main.landing

3. Weinstein N, Slovic P, Waters E and Gibson G. Public understanding of the illnesses caused by smoking. Nicotine & Tobacco Research 2004;6(2):349–55. Available from: http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~db=all?content=10.1080/14622200410001676459

4. Peters E, Romer D, Slovic P, Jamieson K, Wharfield L, Mertz C, et al. The impact and acceptability of Canadian-style cigarette warning labels among US smokers and nonsmokers. Nicotine & Tobacco Research 2007;9(4):473–81. Available from: http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~db=all?content=10.1080/14622200701239639

5. Preventative Health Taskforce. Australia: the healthiest country by 2020; National Preventative Health Strategy. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia, 2009. Available from: http://www.preventativehealth.org.au/internet/preventativehealth/publishing.nsf/Content/national-preventative-health-strategy-1lp

6. Tobacco Working Group. Technical report no 2. Tobacco in Australia: making smoking history. Canberra: Preventative Health Taskforce, 2008. Available from: http://www.preventativehealth.org.au/internet/preventativehealth/publishing.nsf/Content/tech-tobacco

7. Australian Government. Taking preventative action: Government's response to Australia: the healthiest country by 2020. Canberra: Department of Health and Ageing, 2010. Available from: http://yourhealth.gov.au/internet/yourhealth/publishing.nsf/Content/report-preventativehealthcare

8. RJ Reynolds Tobacco company et al. v United States Food and Drug Administration et al 2011 United States District Court for the District of Columbia Document 19. Available from: http://law.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/district-of-columbia/dcdce/1:2011cv01482/149689/39