Graphic Warning Labels On Cigarettes Help Smokers Recall Dangers Of Smoking
June 15, 2012

Graphic Warning Labels On Cigarettes Help Smokers Recall Dangers Of Smoking

Lawrence LeBlond for

Graphic warning labels on cigarette packaging can improve smokers' recall of the health risks associated with smoking, according to a study by the Perelman School of Medicine at UPenn.

The findings on the study of 200 smokers, presented in the online edition of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, found that 83 percent were able to remember the health warning if it was accompanied by a graphic image, and only 50 percent remembered text-only warnings.

Studies conducting in the past have in Europe and Canada have shown that graphic warning labels were effective in eliciting negative responses to smoking. However, past studies were confounded by concurrent tax increases and anti-smoking ad campaigns that coincided with the introduction of new warning labels.

In the latest study, researchers, led by Andrew A. Strasser, PhD, Department of Psychiatry at UPenn, the participants were randomized to view either text-only warning label ads, which were unaltered and utilized the Surgeon General´s warning and FTC testing information that has appeared on cigarette ads since 1985; or a graphic warning label version that contained an image depicting a hospitalized patient on a ventilator along with a health warning in large text, similar to what the FDA has proposed.

The team used state-of-the-art eye tracking technology to aid in their study.

After each participant viewed the ad, he or she was asked to write down the warning to test how well they remembered the information. The faster the smoker´s eyes were drawn to the text in the graphic warning and the longer they viewed the image, the more likely they were to remember the information correctly, the study found.

“An important first step in evaluating the true efficacy of the warning labels is to demonstrate if smokers can correctly recall its content or message,” said Strasser. “Based on this new research, we now have a better understanding of two important questions about how U.S. smokers view graphic warning labels: do smokers get the message and how do they get the message.”

This research “provides valuable insight into how the warning labels may be effective, which may serve to create more effective warning labels in the future,” noted Strasser. “We´re hopeful that once the graphic warning labels are implemented, we will be able to make great strides in helping people to be better informed about their risks, and to convince them to quit smoking”

He noted that further studies on the size, font, color, and location of text may identify the most effective way to draw attention to the health risks associated with smoking.

The 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act authorized the FDA to require graphic warning labels be added to cigarette packaging. The labels were originally mandated to appear in September 2012, but the measure has been held up in court.

In April the UK government launched a consultation seeking views on whether tobacco products should be sold with standardized packaging. It is currently exploring the options of no branding appearing on the package, using a uniform color for all packages and using a standard font, text or image on the package.

The consultation has been welcomed by the Tobacco Manufacturers´ Association. However, it said there was no reliable evidence that plain packaging would reduce the rates of smoking in youth.

“We believe the government should quash the idea of plain packaging, which only serves to make counterfeiting cigarettes easier and make stock-taking and serving customers harder for legitimate retailers,” Jaine Chisholm Caunt, the secretary-general of the TMA, told BBC News.

Australia is currently the only country which has so far agreed to plain packaging and a ban on branding on cigarette packaging.