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Govt Mulls Cigarette Pack Insert Messages to Boost Quit Rate

Messages encouraging people to stop smoking could be placed inside cigarette packs, under proposals outlined by the Government.

A 4-month consultation will seek views on adding pack inserts that highlight the health and financial benefits from quitting, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.

Although smoking rates in the UK reached an all-time low of 13.3% in 2021, smoking remains the single leading preventable cause of illness and mortality, according to the DHSC, which said it was associated with almost one in 25 (450,000) hospital admissions each year. 

England's Health Secretary, Steve Barclay, said that smoking placed a "huge burden" on the NHS, the economy, and on individuals, and "directly" caused a range of health problems. Smoking is a direct contributor to six groups of conditions — cancers, cardiovascular diseases (including stroke and diabetes), musculoskeletal disorders, mental ill health, dementia, and chronic respiratory conditions — included in the Government's Major Conditions Strategy. Smoking is the biggest cause of cancer, with "one in every five cancer deaths in England connected to smoking".

Positive Messages on Pack Inserts

Government health warnings have been a feature on the outside of cigarette packs since 1971 – and in 2016 the UK became the second nation in the world after Australia to introduce standardised packaging on tobacco products. Now, the DHSC says there is evidence that inserting messages inside the products could be an effective means of encouraging smokers to quit. In Canada and Israel, pack inserts are already used, and Australia has announced its intention to introduce them too. This month, Health Canada went still further by introducing regulations requiring warning labels to be printed directly on every cigarette sold in Canada.

An evaluation of Canada's pack insert policy found that almost 1 in 3 smokers had read the inserts at least once in the past month, and that those who were exposed to the inserts multiple times were significantly more likely to try to give up smoking, the DHSC said.

If adopted in the UK, the inserts would contain "positive messages" about the benefits of quitting cigarette smoking – for example, improvements to breathing within a matter of days, and how the average smoker was likely to save over £2000 per year if they quit – to encourage people to quit and to signpost them to advice and support.

An impact assessment calculated that pack inserts could lead to an additional 31,525 adults quitting smoking in the first 2 years following introduction, with savings estimated at just over £1.6 billion in health costs.

Encouragement to Keep Trying to Quit is Vital

The new consultation is part of the Government's efforts towards its pledge to reduce smoking rates across the nation to less than 5% by 2030. These efforts have included a 'swap to stop' scheme encouraging smokers to 'vape' instead, and a financial incentive scheme for pregnant smokers.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), emphasised the addictive nature of smoking and said that it took smokers on average "30 attempts" before they succeeded in stopping. "So encouraging them to keep on trying is vital," she stressed.

"Pack inserts do this by backing up the grim messages about death and disease on the outside, with the best advice about how to quit on the inside," she underlined.

"By taking action to reduce smoking rates and pursuing our ambition to be smokefree by 2030, we will reduce the pressure on the NHS and help people to live healthier lives," Mr Barclay said.

The tobacco inserts consultation will run until 10 October.

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