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Study: Cigarette pack warnings more effective combining text and images

cigarette warning label with elaborated text and image Cigarette-pack warning labels that combine graphic images with lengthier explanations of the dangers of smoking were found to be more effective than images or brief warnings alone at convincing smokers to consider quitting, a new study has found.

The study, by researchers at the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania and at the Ohio State University, tested more than 2,600 people with eight combinations of warnings and images. It found that using photos or illustrations with the lengthier, “elaborated text” was a more powerful deterrent than the simple warnings featured on the side of cigarette packs or those short warnings accompanied by images.

The study says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration “lost a crucial opportunity” to “enhance the impact of their warning labels” by not including the elaborated text.

“This study shows that the combination of images and lengthier text warnings appeals both to the emotional and the thoughtful sides of smokers,” said Dan Romer, a researcher at the Annenberg Public Policy Center who co-authored the study.

The Food and Drug Administration’s proposal for graphic warning-label images on cigarette packs is on hold. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia struck down the F.D.A.’s proposals for graphic-image warning labels in August 2012 as a violation of the First Amendment right to corporate free speech by tobacco companies.

“The court ruling criticized the warning labels as lacking information and seeking to scare smokers into quitting,” Romer said. “Our analysis suggests that combining a powerful image with a powerful message is the most effective path to deterring smoking.”

The study, published in August 2013 in Nicotine & Tobacco Research, was the first to examine the contribution of elaborated text on the labels. A label using such text shows a cartoon image of a baby with the words: “Warning: Smoking During Pregnancy Can Harm Your Baby.” Underneath the image, it also includes the words: “Every cigarette you smoke during pregnancy reduces the growth of your baby and increases the risks of infant illness, disability, and death.”

A full version of the news release is here.

The abstract and study can be found here.