Graphic Cigarette Labels Work Better At Discouraging Smoking

By Amir Khan on June 15, 2012 9:59 AM EDT

Smoking
Graphic cigarette labels are effective at helping smokers understand the health risks that come with the habit, according to a new study (Photo: Reuters/Suzanne Plunkett)

Graphic cigarette labels are effective at helping smokers understand the health risks that come with the habit, according to a new study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine on Thursday. Several countries already have graphic labels in place, and cigarette companies in the United States will have to start displaying the same labels in September.

"An important step in evaluating the true efficacy of the warning labels is to demonstrate if smokers can correctly recall its content of message," Andrew Strasser, study author and researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, said, according to Scientific American.

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Researchers found that 83 percent of people were able to recall the health warning when accompanied by a graphic image compared to only 50 percent of people who were able to recall a text-only warning. In addition, researchers tracked the eye movement of the study participants while they looked at the ad and found that they looked at the health warning longer when accompanied by the image.

"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 told BBC News.

Under the Tobacco Control Act of 2009, cigarette companies must implement these new graphic labels by September. The goal, Margaret Hamburg, commissioner of the FDA, said, is to "provide current and potential smokers with clear and truthful information about the risks of smoking."

Smoking kills over 400,000 people a year, about 1,200 daily, and the earlier smokers start the more likely they are to die from smoking-related diseases. More than 80 percent of smokers start before age 18 and 99 percent start by age 26.

Smoking can cause a myriad of health problems including stroke, heart disease, chronic lung problems, and various cancers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Smoking costs the United States $96 billion in medical costs and $97 billion in lost productivity every year.

Strasser told Scientific American this study shows the graphic labels will have the intended effect.

"We're hopeful that once the graphic warning labels are implemented, we will be able to make great strides in helping people to be better informed about their risks, and to convince them to quit smoking."

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