Graphic Warning Labels on Tobacco Products: How Effective Are They?

In 2009, Congress passed a law that mandates the introduction of new, graphic warning labels on cigarette packs. By 2012, tobacco companies must incorporate into their packaging one of nine FDA-approved graphics—images that show the potential consequences of smoking, like diseased lungs and rotting teeth—along with a national quit-smoking hotline number. The FDA believes the warnings will prevent children from taking up the habit and help adults quit (Department of Health and Human Services).

Findings generally show that graphic warning labels are effective at increasing awareness of the health risks posed by smoking. In April, the authors of a study published in Health Education Research interviewed subjects both before and after the implementation of Taiwan’s new graphic cigarette warning label and smoke-free law. They found that “the prevalence of thinking about the health hazards of smoking among smokers increased from 50.6% pre-law to 79.6% post-law, [and] the prevalence rates of smokers who reported thinking of quitting rose from 30.2% pre-law to 51.7% post-law.”

A 2009 study looked at Australia’s graphic labels, which have been in use since 2006 and have relatively strict specifications (they must compose 30% of the front and 90% of the back of each pack). The warnings “increased reactions that are prospectively predictive of cessation activity. Warning size increases warning effectiveness and graphic warnings may be superior to text-based warnings.” Despite some wear-out of the message over time, “stronger warnings tend to sustain their effects for longer.” Another Australia-focused study looked at the media coverage surrounding the introduction of the new labels and found that, of 67 news stories, “85% were positive or neutral about the new warnings and 15% were negative” and that “smokers’ initial reactions [to the labels] were in line with tobacco control objectives.”

What do you think? Are these methods effective motivators in the long run? If so, will that translate into an increase in actual quitters? Are there drawbacks to this type of labeling? Let’s hear what you have to say.

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