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Arnold School of Public Health


Jim Thrasher wins $2.7 million grant to study effectiveness of cigarette package inserts in helping smokers quit

January 28, 2019 | Erin Bluvas, bluvase@sc.edu

Jim Thrasher, professor of health promotion, education, and behavior, has been awarded a $2.7 million grant from the National Cancer Institute. With this five-year project, he will evaluate whether public health messages on cigarette package inserts, which are small printed leaflets inside of cigarette packs, can help smokers quit.

“Large warning labels on tobacco products are effective for promoting smoking cessation, and most countries require that these warnings be printed on cigarette packs,” says Thrasher, who has been studying cigarette labels for more than a decade. For his research in this area, he received the World Health Organization’s World No Tobacco Day Award in 2016.

“For over a century, cigarette manufacturers have used inserts to reach smokers with promotional messages every time they open a new pack,” he says. “However, inserts remain underused for communicating health messages to consumers.”

To date, Canada is the only country in the world whose labeling policy includes inserts, which provide positive messages about the benefits of quitting and effective strategies to quit. Thrasher’s prior research suggests that these inserts, along with large pictorial warnings that show the health consequences of smoking, are an extremely promising way to help smokers quit. This study will help determine the effectiveness of Canada’s policy when they implement a new set of inserts and health warning labels in 2022.

The study will also assess the potential effectiveness of inserts with cessation tips and benefits for smokers in the U.S. Through a randomized experiment, Thrasher and his team will assess smoking cessation outcomes based on whether smokers’ cigarette packs contain no inserts or pictorial warnings (which is current policy in the U.S.), inserts only, pictorial warnings only, or both inserts and pictorial warnings.

“The results from this research will inform policy making both in the U.S. and internationally,” says Thrasher. “We will also improve understanding of how product labeling can be used to promote a variety of healthy behaviors. The low cost of this kind of communication intervention, which repeatedly communicates information to consumers, holds great potential for improving public health.”

Smoking is the leading preventable cause of disease both in the U.S. and globally, and tobacco product labeling is one of the core policies for tobacco control. Thrasher has nearly 20 years of experience researching and shaping policy and communications to reduce tobacco use in countries around the world. He is an internationally-recognized expert in the field and serves on numerous scientific, regulatory, editorial, and advocacy workgroups and committees, including the Food and Drug Administration’s Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee.


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