Graphic Warnings on Cigarette Packs More Effective

Graphic Warnings on Cigarette Packs More EffectiveGraphic Warnings on Cigarette Packs More Effective

With 2016 just around the corner, many individuals will be gearing up to take on one of the most challenging New Year’s resolutions: to quit smoking. But a new study suggests this challenge could be made easier if graphic warning labels were put on cigarette packets, after finding such warnings trigger more negative feelings toward smoking than text warnings alone.

Lead study author Abigail Evans, a postdoctoral researcher at Ohio State University, and colleagues published their findings in the journal PLOS One.

In 2011, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) directed tobacco companies to include color graphics on cigarette packets that depict the negative health implications of smoking.

In 2012, however, a US federal appeals court overturned the ruling, claiming the images put forward by the FDA were “unconstitutional” and were “unabashed attempts to evoke emotion [...] and browbeat consumers into quitting.”

According to Evans and colleagues, their findings suggest the decision to overturn the FDA’s rule based on these grounds was wrong; the team says the graphic images do not “browbeat” consumers, and though they do evoke emotion in smokers, they say these emotions make people think more carefully about the health risks of smoking, reported.

“What the court is missing is that without emotions, we can’t make decisions,” says study coauthor Ellen Peters, professor of psychology at Ohio State. “We require having feelings about information we collect in order to feel motivated to act. These graphic warnings helped people to think more carefully about the risks.”

The team reached their conclusion by assessing 244 adults of an average age of 34 who smoked between 5-40 cigarettes a day.

For 4 weeks, smokers were given their preferred brand of cigarettes in packaging that had been modified; some packets contained warning text only - such as “cigarettes cause fatal lung disease” - some contained warning text plus one of nine graphics depicting the dangers of smoking, while others consisted of warning text, graphics plus additional text detailing the risk of every cigarette smoked.

The warning graphics used were developed by the FDA and contained disturbing images, such as a man smoking through a hole in his throat, depicting a surgical procedure known as a tracheostomy that is a result of some smoking-related cancers.

Each week for the 4-week period, smokers collected their cigarettes from the lab and completed surveys detailing how the new packaging made them feel about smoking.

Compared with participants who received text-only packaging, those who received packaging with graphic warnings were more likely to read or look closely at the information, were more likely to remember the information, and were more likely to report that the packaging made them feel worse about smoking. “Smokers looked more carefully at the packages and, as a result, the health risks fell into the spotlight and led to more consideration of those risks,” Peters noted.