Smokers' perceptions of cigarette packaging with audio warning messages: A focus group study in Scotland

Danielle Mitchell, Crawford Moodie, Linda Bauld

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


AIMS: The use of audio pack cues or messages is a recent trend in packaging design. There is scope to use audio technology to communicate health and cessation messages via cigarette packaging. We explored how smokers responded to cigarette packs which played audio health messages.

METHODS: Twenty focus groups were conducted in Scotland in 2015 with smokers (n=120) segmented by age (16-17, 18-24, 25-35, 36-50, >50), gender and social grade. Perceptions of cigarette packs which played audio warnings were explored, with four messages used: (1) a cessation message with a quitline number, (2) mortality message, (3) fertility message, and (4) message about ageing skin.

RESULTS: Audio warnings were thought to increase message impact, particularly among younger smokers, as they would be hard to ignore or avoid, and repetition may lead to the messages being memorised. The warnings were considered annoying or embarrassing, and participants suggested they may discard the packs and use alternative storage. Some participants suggested that the audio warnings were off-putting and may alter their smoking behaviour, with the mortality message deemed most effective and was considered relatable and felt personal. Older smokers were least likely to believe that audio warnings would affect their smoking behaviour, although some thought that they may enhance cessation attempts among smokers seeking to quit, and could deter new or potential smokers, for example young people.

CONCLUSIONS: Cigarette packs with audio messaging may have a role to play, now or in the future, as a novel way of communicating health and cessation information.

IMPLICATIONS: There is a lack of research exploring smokers' perceptions of cigarette packs which play audio health messages. This focus group study provides an understanding of smokers' immediate responses to cigarette packs which played a short health message when opened. Smokers generally viewed them as annoying or embarrassing, and some suggested the use of alternative storage. Audio warnings were thought to increase message salience, memorability and impact, for younger smokers in particular, and some suggested that they be off-putting for themselves or others.

Original languageEnglish
JournalNicotine and Tobacco Research
Early online date7 May 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 7 May 2019


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