Keep tobacco messaging simple or miss the mark

3 minute read

Proposed new warnings are full of difficult language and unclear images, says the AMA.

Inserts containing health warnings for tobacco products are effective, but not if they’re riddled with medical jargon, confusing images and red font, says the AMA.

Yesterday, the AMA released its submission to the second public consultation on the regulation of tobacco products.

The new draft contained more detail on proposed graphic health warnings and health promotion to be included with tobacco products.

According to the AMA, health warnings have been proven effective and contributed to a decline in smoking rates since their induction in 2011. But smoking rates have remained persistent in Indigenous and remote communities and have not been aided by the introduction of vapes.

“To effectively shift the Australian adult population smoking rate to 5% or less by 2030, a deep understanding of the target consumer is needed,” it said in its submission.

Regular analysis of smoking populations would help in making messaging more effective, added the AMA, while highlighting the draft’s overcomplicated language, unclear imagery and poor choice of colour scheme.

“The medical language, long text sections and complex health diagrams will not resonate with the target audience,” it said.

It recommended words like emphysema be replaced with more “relatable statements” like “out of breath”, “suffocating” and “lacking energy”.

The AMA said images used throughout the insert should not require an explanatory caption and noted that they predominantly depicted white male patients and healthcare professionals.

It also discouraged the use of red, which disadvantaged people with colour-blindness and made the text harder to read.

The AMA recommended that messaging, particularly on social media, should be tailored to different levels of education.

“Simple messaging such as: ‘Do you know what you are breathing in?’, ‘vaping has unknown and long-term side effects’, ‘nicotine harms adolescent brain development’, ‘vaping can cause burns and injuries (including lungs)’ are required.

“No young person would put their IQ at risk.”

While the AMA supported legislation to discourage smoking and vaping, it suggested positive messaging about the benefits of quitting, such as financial gain, rather than an entirely negative campaign.

Number two of three on this week’s list of submissions from the AMA was support for a statement from the NHMRC and MRFF on “sex, gender, variations of sex characteristics and sexual orientation in health and medical research”, and a push for its adoption by the wider research community.

The group backed a “framework or checklist” for researchers that can be included in study design across all levels of research to ensure diversity.

“[This] will undoubtedly increase our understanding of the cause of disease and how best to prevent and manage these conditions,” it said.

But the support was accompanied by a warning: “if Australia does not move swiftly to implement the statement, there is a real risk Australian research will lose its competitiveness to attract funding and partner with international bodies”.

Last but not least, this week the AMA published its submission to the draft Early Years Strategy.

“We are pleased to see that the guiding principles of the draft strategy are a child-centred, strength-based, equity and community-focused approach – children must not be disadvantaged by the social and cultural determinants they are born into,” said the AMA.

“The submission also emphasises that communication between families, medical practitioners and other professionals working with children in their early stages of development, is essential, and leads to better health outcomes for the child.”

 The AMA suggested “a strong outcomes and evaluation framework” be released alongside the final 10-year strategy to outline accountability among all levels of government for its implementation.

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