Policies that encourage healthy behaviours are often met with strong opposition from well-funded industry lobby groups. Public health advocates need to be able to compete against the anti-policy messages communicated by these industry groups, so they can secure high levels of public support for important cancer prevention policies. Two approaches that may be useful to these public health advocates, based on message effect theories in communication research, are inoculation and narrative persuasion. Inoculation involves protecting people from future anti-policy messages by forewarning them and actively refuting the arguments typically made by the industry. Narratives involve short stories focusing on how a particular character will be affected by the policy. In collaboration with Dr Jeff Niederdeppe from Cornell University in the United States, we are conducting an online randomised experiment to test whether messages that include inoculation and/or narrative components are more effective at generating support for four different health policies (increased taxes on sugary drinks and alcohol; marketing restrictions on sugary drinks and alcohol) relative to no message or a standard pro-policy advocacy message. They will also examine whether these messages, delivered as mock radio interviews, can maintain policy support over time (at one or two week follow-up), even when participants are faced with a strong anti-policy message from the soft drink or alcohol industry. It is expected that results from this study will assist public health organisations in their efforts to advocate for policy changes to tackle obesity and alcohol-related harm in Australia.
The Australian Secondary Students’ Alcohol and Drug survey, conducted triennially since 1984, is a collaboration between Cancer Councils in Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania and South Australia, as well as Commonwealth and state and territory health departments. In 2014 around 23,000 students aged 12 to 17 years from 352 schools participated in the study. Encouragingly, there has been a decrease in Australian students’ involvement in smoking. When the survey started in 1984, 31% of students had never had a cigarette and in 2014 that proportion had increased to 81%. In 2014, the proportion of students reporting they had never had a cigarette was significantly higher than estimates found in 2011 and 2008. Only 5% of all 12 to 17 year-old students had smoked in the past week (current smokers). The percentage of current smokers increased with age, from 1% of 12 year-olds to 12% of 17 year-olds. While the proportion of 12 to 17 year-old current smokers appeared to have stabilised at around 7% between 2008 and 2011, the proportion of 12 to 17 year-old current smokers in 2014 was significantly lower than in 2011 and 2008. Winfield (33%), JPS (17%) and Peter Jackson (9%) were the three most commonly smoked cigarette brands for adolescent current smokers. JPS has now overtaken Peter Jackson as the second most popular brand among adolescents. The report is available from: http://www.nationaldrugstrategy.gov.au/internet/drugstrategy/Publishing.nsf/content/school11