Graphic warning labels on cigarette packs 'work better'

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

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.

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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