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Graphic cigarette warnings help smokers to quit

A study that was carried out in the US has revealed graphic health warnings that feature on the side of cigarette packets make smokers take notice of t...

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|Jun 18|magazine9 min read

A study that was carried out in the US has revealed graphic health warnings that feature on the side of cigarette packets make smokers take notice of the health risks associated with smoking.

The investigation, which was took place at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine, found that smokers were more likely to remember the details of health warnings if they were accompanied by an image.

This study was the first of its kind to be carried out in America, and the results support the findings of previous studies that took place in Europe and Canada.

They found graphic warning labels are proven to be effective in eliciting negative responses to smoking, therefore increasing reported intention to quit smoking in smokers, and modifying beliefs about smoking dangers.

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The team of American researchers recruited 200 smokers to participate in the study, who had to look at two packets of cigarettes with different warning labels.

Half of the group were randomly asked to view a text-only warning label advertisement, which was unaltered and featured the Surgeon General's warning and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) testing information that has appeared on cigarette advertisements since 1985.

The remaining smokers had to look at a graphic warning label version that contained a graphic image (depicting a hospitalised patient on a ventilator) and a health warning with larger text, similar to what has been proposed by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to be adopted in the US.

Eye-tracking technology was then used to calculate how long each person looked at their specified advert, and which parts of the warning label they focused on the most.

The participants were then asked to take part in a test where they had to recreate and rewrite the warning label, to show how well they remembered it.

The researchers found a significant difference in percentage correct recall of the warning label between those in the text-only versus graphic warning label condition; 50 percent compared to 83 percent.

In addition, the quicker a smoker looked at the large text in the graphic warning, and the longer they viewed the graphic image, the more likely they were at recalling the information correctly.

Commenting on the findings, the lead author of the study, Andrew A. Strasser, said: “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.”

“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,” he continued.

“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.”

The results of the research have now been published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.