Grotesque Doesn't Sell

Cigarette packaging with graphic warnings seems to work

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Starting in the fall of 2012, cigarette packages will display graphic images along with health warnings in an effort to persuade smokers to kick the habit. A new study finds the new messaging will likely work.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently unveiled new cigarette packaging labels that are - well - disgusting. Next year smokers will be looking at images of such things as mouth cancers and dead, and near dead bodies. Lovely stuff this.

But will all this grosteque imaging  work? Very likely it will, according to new research, smokers are shying away from packaging that features graphic images.

"Please stop smoking."

To test the impact of graphic labelling, researchers held an experimental auction with 404 smokers from four states. The cigarette packs each carried the warning "Smoking causes mouth cancer," placed on four different types of labels:

  • Written warning message that was placed on the side of the pack
  • Text message over 50 percent of the bottom half of the front, back and one side of the pack
  • Text warning with a graphic photo showing mouth cancer
  • Text plus graphic image on an "unbranded pack" or plain packaging

All packs carried the same message: smoking causes mouth cancer.

The study's co-author,  Matthew Rousu, professor of economics at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania, said that the warning on the side of the pack - similar to those used today - had no impact on consumers.

The packs that had the grotesque images had much lower demand, with the one that placed the graphic pictures on a plain pack having the lowest appeal. That package had a 17 percent lower demand than current packaging which includes text warnings on the side only.

As a result of this study, Rousu and his colleagues suggest that the FDA consider placing the new labelling on plain packages.

Graphic  images and health warnings will dominate packs of cigarettes and point-of-purchase displays starting in September 2012.

The study “Estimating the impact of pictorial health warnings and ‘plain’ cigarette packaging: Evidence form experimental auctions among adult smokers in the United States” was published in the journal Health Policy.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
August 9, 2011
Last Updated:
August 10, 2011