Graphic warning labels help smokers remember tobacco health risks, study finds

Study participants looked at these two images while
researchers assessed how effectively they were viewed.
Graphic by Penn Medicine.

Graphic warning labels on cigarette packages can help smokers remember the message and the health risks associated with smoking, a study has found.

Researchers asked 200 smokers to look at either a text-only label advertisement — which is similar to warnings that have been on cigarette packages since 1985 — or a graphic warning label showing a hospitalized patient on a ventilator along with a written warning — which has been proposed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Researchers used eye-tracking technology to measure how the advertisement was looked at and for how long, reports research-reporting service Newswise. Then participants were asked to rewrite the message they’d seen to show how well they remembered it.

Results showed 50 percent of participants who saw the text-only ad remembered the warning label, while 83 percent of those who saw the graphic image warning remembered what they’d seen.

“In addition to showing the value of adding a graphic warning label, this research also provides insight into how the warning labels may be effective, which may serve to create more effective warning labels in the future,” said Andrew A. Strasser, associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania, where the study was conducted. “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 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act mandated the FDA to require graphic warning labels on cigarettes packaging starting in September 2012. The mandate has since been held up in court. (Read more)

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