Positive impact of anti-tobacco advertising using ‘graphic health warnings’

Photo credit: NIPSOM

A study by the National Institute of Preventive and Social Medicine (NIPSOM) reveals that 83% of tobacco users that noticed graphic health warnings (GHWs) based anti-tobacco advertisements in newspapers considered quitting tobacco use. The study was supported by World Health Organization (WHO), Country Office for Bangladesh, and was conducted between October to December 2016 on 2982 adults (aged 18 years and older) from divisional, district and sub-district levels in urban areas.

The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) requires Parties to the Convention to implement large, rotating health warnings on all tobacco product packaging and labelling. In Bangladesh, GHWs on tobacco packaging became compulsory in March 2016.

In an innovative application of GHWs, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare published them in selected well-circulated national newspapers as part of an anti-tobacco advertising campaign undertaken in 2015 and repeated in 2016. The present study was undertaken to evaluate the impact of this strategy.

Of the study population, 12.5% noticed the GHW-based advertisements in the newspapers. Of those who noticed the warnings, nearly all (95%) said that the advertisement could clearly transmit the message that tobacco use is harmful for health. Moreover, the majority (82%) considered those advertisements to be an effective tobacco control tool.

Out of the population noticing the GHWs, 26.8% were tobacco users. Between seeing the warnings and the time of the survey, the majority (83%) of them thought about quiting at some point.

The study also included sixteen key informants who were purposively selected for in-depth interviews. The key informants were member secretaries of the District Tobacco Control Taskforce Committees and representatives of civil society of the respective districts. One key informant noted, “Tobacco cannot be controlled by act only. By only enacting laws, nothing can be done effectively. So to control tobacco effectively, there should be strong enforcement of law, supplemented by awareness building, for example, through graphical health warning based advertisement in dailies.”

The study concludes that pictorial anti-tobacco advertisements in newspapers can be an effective intervention as part of a comprehensive tobacco control package. To increase the reach of such a strategy, GHW based anti-tobacco advertisement could be published in local well-circulated newspapers, on social media and television.

WHO remains committed in supporting the government of Bangladesh in its efforts to provide a healthier environment for its citizens by enforcing laws and implementing policies in favour of reducing tobacco usage.

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