New Research, New Life for Graphic Cigarette Warning Labels?

graphic cigarette warning labelSo, long ago and far way – 5 years back, to be exact – the FDA proposed new, super-graphic warning labels on cigarettes. Unsurprisingly, the tobacco companies were against them. One promptly filed suit.

As you know, if you’ve seen a package of smokes lately, those warning labels never came to pass.

Writing about it back then, we supposed that while the labels might work as a deterrent for some, they might not have as much of an impact as you might hope, especially on hardcore, long-term smokers.

And just weeks later, a German study suggested that that might well be the case.

After an abstinence period of 12 hours, the brain’s fear center was mostly out of commission in addicts. The researchers assume that a campaign using images of smokers’ lungs as deterrents on cigarette packs – as both the US and EU are currently planning – will hardly have an effect on this group.

But that was quite a small study and sharply focused on brain activity. A new study, however – large, randomized, and controlled – focused on behavior and suggests that yes, graphic warnings may actually be effective, at least on the population studied.

As the New York Times recently reported,

In a four-week trial, 2,149 smokers were randomly assigned to use packs of cigarettes with either pictorial or text-only warnings. At the end of each week, researchers surveyed the participants about their smoking.

The two groups had the same baseline desire to quit and similar understanding of the harms of smoking. But by the end of the study, 40 percent of those in the pictorial warning group had quit for at least a day, and 5.7 percent were not smoking during the seven days before their final interview, compared with 34 percent and 3.8 percent respectively in the text-only group.

The pictorial warnings were more effective for both sexes and across races, ethnicities and socioeconomic levels.

The study was published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

So perhaps we might be seeing those graphic warnings after all.


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