Study supports graphic warning labels on tobacco packaging

17 June 2012 (Last Updated June 17th, 2012 18:30)

Cigarette packaging with graphic warning labels can improve smokers' recall of the warning and health risks associated with smoking, according to a new study by the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Cigarette Packs with graphic warning labels

Cigarette packaging with graphic warning labels can improve smokers' recall of the warning and health risks associated with smoking, according to a new study by the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

The study, published first in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, reveals that 83% of the 200 participating smokers were able to remember the health warning if it was accompanied by a graphic image, while 50% remembered text-only warnings.

According to past studies conducted in Europe and Canada, graphic warning labels evoke negative responses to smoking, increasing reported intention to quit smoking in smokers and modifying beliefs about smoking dangers.

In this latest study, the participants were randomised to view either text-only warning label adverts, which were unaltered and included the Surgeon General's warning and FTC testing information that has been appearing on cigarette ads since 1985, or a graphic warning label version that contained an image depicting a hospitalised patient on a ventilator, along with a health warning highlighted in large text.

The research team used eye tracking technology to test how the participants viewed the layout of the advertisements. At the same time, each participant had to rewrite the warning label text to demonstrate their recall of the information.

Pennsylvania University Department of Psychiatry associate professor and lead author of the new study Andrew Strasser said the important step in assessing the efficiency of the warning labels is to demonstrate if smokers can recall its content or message precisely.

"Based on this new research, we now have a better understanding of two important questions about how U.S. smokers view graphic warning labels: do smokers get the message and how do they get the message," Strasser said.

The researchers said the new data demonstrates that drawing attention to the warning label can improve recall of health-relevant information, which is also expected to change the framing of messages in the advertisement body.

Further study of the size, font, colour and location of text may lead to a more effective way to draw attention.

"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," Strasser said.


Image: The Perelman School of Medicine study found that 83% of the participants could recollect the health warning on cigarette packs accompanied by a graphic image. Photo: Penn Medicine.