Anti-Smoking Labels Work

Smoking cessation may be aided by graphic warning labels on cigarette packaging

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Since 1985, the text-only Surgeon General warning has been on the side of every single cigarette pack sold in the United States.

New FDA legislation may require a graphic anti-smoking picture to appear on the cigarette pack.

Research suggests that people remember graphic vs. text-only warning labels on cigarette packaging by 33 percent.

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Andrew A. Strasser, PhD, Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, led an investigation in the effectiveness of graphic warning labels on cigarette packaging.

It’s not the warning labels themselves that are being evaluated, but the ability of the warning label to make the smoker recall other anti-smoking images, statistics and risk factors associated with smoking. Currently in the US, cigarette packaging does not have graphic warning labels like they have in other countries.

The 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Control Act will allow the FDA to require graphic warning labels on cigarette packaging by September 2012. Court appeals may delay this date.

Strasser’s study took 200 current, daily smokers and split them into a graphic warning label or text only warning label group. Researchers tracked their eye movement patterns to see how long they were looking at what and compared those results to later recall results.

The text-only warning labels were drawn from the Surgeon General’s warning that has been on cigarette packs since 1985. The graphic warnings were similar to the ones that will be appearing on packaging around September 2012.

The research team found that when they asked participants to rewrite the ads they had viewed the correct recall for the graphic warning label was 83 percent vs. 50 percent for text-only recall.

Note again, that the text-only warning label was the same one that has been on cigarette packs since 1985 and all subjects were current daily smokers.

Authors add: “Warning labels that drew attention more quickly and resulted in longer dwell times were associated with better recall.” They concluded that: “Graphic warning labels improve smokers’ recall of warning and health risks; these labels do so by drawing and holding attention.”

Strasser states: “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. Based on this new research, we now have a better understanding of two important questions about how US smokers view graphic warning labels: do smokers get the message and how do they get the message.”

He concluded, “In addition to showing the value of adding a graphic warning label, this research also provides valuable insight into how the warning labels may be effective, which may serve to create more effective warning labels in the future.”

“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.”

This study was published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, June 2012. Funding for this research was provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the National Cancer Institute and the National Institutes of Health, no conflicts of interest were found.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 17, 2012
Last Updated:
October 30, 2012