Graphic warning labels on cigarette packs 'work better'

Warnings on cigarette packets Large text warnings currently appear on the front of cigarette packaging and image warnings on the back

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Images of patients on ventilators on cigarette packets help smokers heed the health warnings about smoking, says US research.

A study of 200 smokers in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that 83% were able to remember the health warning if it was accompanied by a graphic image.

This compared with a 50% success rate when text-only warnings were viewed.

The UK government is carrying out a consultation on cigarette packaging.

Using eye-tracking technology, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania measured how long smokers spent viewing each part of a cigarette advertisement containing warning labels.

After looking at the advertisement, each participant was asked to write down the warning to test how well they remembered the information.

Start Quote

We believe the government should quash the idea of plain packaging, which only serves to make counterfeiting cigarettes easier”

End Quote Jaine Chisholm Caunt Tobacco Manufacturers' Association

The faster a smoker's eyes were drawn to the text in the graphic warning and the longer they viewed the image, the more likely they were to remember the information correctly, the study said.

'Valuable insight'

Dr Andrew Strasser, lead author of the study and associate professor at the department of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, said the findings were important.

"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," said Dr Strasser.

Dr Strasser said that he hoped graphic warning labels would help people become better informed about the risks of smoking and lead to a decision to stop.

In April the UK government launched a consultation seeking views on whether tobacco products should be sold in standardised packaging.

As part of the consultation, it is exploring the options of no branding appearing on the packet, using a uniform colour for all packets or using standard font, text or imagery on every packet.

The Tobacco Manufacturers' Association has previously said it welcomes the consultation.

But it also said there was no reliable evidence that plain packaging would reduce rates of youth smoking.

Jaine Chisholm Caunt, the secretary-general of the TMA, said: "We believe the government should quash the idea of plain packaging, which only serves to make counterfeiting cigarettes easier and make stock-taking and serving customers harder for legitimate retailers."

In the US, health officials ordered that graphic warning labels should appear on cigarette packets from September this year, but tobacco companies are challenging the decision in court.

Australia is currently the only country which has so far agreed to plain packaging and a ban on branding on cigarette packets.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    The tax take from smokers more than adequately covers the health problems they will have , however this is just a political football that rears its head any time politicians want a win on something.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    If our government was really so concerned about people smoking it would have banned tobacco imports years ago. But I guess the huge tax revenue cannot be overlooked. Our government at its hypocritical best!

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Some people like smoking
    Some people like drinking
    Some people like eating rubbish
    Some people like being interfering busybodies

    The Smoking industry provides a service for two of the above

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Not all smokers want to quit. To think the images work might be a lie, some want to quit on self morale and confidence. You don't need images and words to tell you what to do. We have enough false advertising already.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Does investing in tobacco companies provide better council services?

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Why not explain to people that Cancer is not the worry - it isn't that common compared to worse them what I see come into hospital everyday which 90% of smokers will get - COPD. See how they feel about seeing a frail old man struggle to get out of a chair without being breathless, only to see this 'old man' is just 45 and requires constant oxygen and cannot leave his house.

  • Comment number 21.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    They work, do they? I decant my puffs into lovely objets d’art. When are bans going to appear on diesel pumps at fuel stations? Or bans on diesel fuelled vehicles? It’s a mad, mad world indeed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    If you try to stop people getting something they want you just create opportunities for criminals to move in and supply the wanted product. Has no-one remembered what happened when America tried to prohibit alcohol?

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Not sure they do entirely. What works is lack of ciggies on display, lack of advertising, lack of smoking in public places. Looks like we are finally winning the war on smoking and the nation's health will improve accordingly. NOW time to focus on obesity, many vested interests at work here just like tobacco compaies in thre past.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    As a smoker all I can say is you are wasting your time. Just as putting the packets behind closed doors solves nothing either. If health were the reasons then why not do the same to alcohol and fatty food? Because that wouldn't work either. Just go away and leave me to the risks, perhaps I don't want to end up in an old folks home, or be old in a World that's only driven for youngsters?

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    advertising works - tell me something I don't know...

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Going a little off message, it puzzles me why cigar and pipe tobacco can smell so nice. Usually the body can tell if something is ok by its smell. Of course this may not mean ingesting it is good for the body but the attractive smell suggests there are good qualities.
    Banning tobacco products would be more sensible than selling it with unpleasant messages making the addicted simply feel guilty.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Do I smoke? Yes.

    Do graphics warnings on cigarettes work? See above.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Stop quoting the results of single trials. Science does not progress in this way. It's necessary to review a large number of trials to judge with any accuracy, the veracity of such claims. I didn't bother to read this article, but I bet this is a one off, relatively smallscale study. Just noise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    I'm not a heavy smoker, maybe two or three "10" packs a week. But I have no intention of giving up, because I enjoy smoking. For some absurd reason the government assumes everyone is trying to quit. No amount of "graphic" imagery will stop me doing something I enjoy. Why not focus on the fatties eating themselves into a coma? At least I KNOW smoking is bad for me. The obese brigade seem oblivious.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    It's not what stopped me. It was a complete change in lifestyle for me. Not once did the pics make me think I should stop. Yes i looked at them. Yes i know ciggy smoke contains lots of nasty chemicals. Yes i know it will kill me eventually. Didn't matter though.

    Still 8 months cold turkey and all the better for it. Will power is more important at breaking a chemical addiction than any picture.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Lets see...TAX and a big tax would work better...if the smokers and drinker are costing the country so much...then tax them more...i believe less people will smoke if 20 cigs were £30

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    "Graphic warning labels on cigarette packs 'work better'"? No. They don't. Knowledge doesn't always affect behaviour. If you want people to smoke less you need to make it 'un-cool', inconvenient, and (even more) crazily expensive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    It certainly worked on me. My wife who is a nurse explained what happens with lung cancer patients to me vividly. If the public could get to see how people die in agony, gasping for breath, then perhaps the message would get through.


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