Study: Graphic warnings on cigarettes effective across demographic groups

January 14, 2013, Harvard School of Public Health

Quitting smoking is a common New Year's resolution for Americans each year, but research has repeatedly shown it is not an easy task. Some groups, such as racial/ethnic minorities, have an even harder time quitting. New research suggests hard-hitting graphic tobacco warnings may help smokers of diverse backgrounds who are struggling to quit. A new study by researchers at Legacy® and Harvard School of Public Health provides further evidence that bold pictorial cigarette warning labels that visually depict the health consequences of smoking—such as those required under the 2009 Family Smoking and Prevention Tobacco Control Act—play a life-saving role in highlighting the dangers of smoking and encouraging smokers to quit.

The study is one of the first to examine the effectiveness of pictorial versus text-only labels across diverse racial/ethnic and . Although a growing body of research has shown that disadvantaged groups may differ in their ability to access, process and act on health information, little is known about communication inequalities when it comes to cigarette warning labels.

The study authors note that text-only cigarette warnings have been repeatedly characterized as unlikely to be noticed or have an impact, and cite prior research indicating pictorial warning labels are more effective.

"Interventions that have a positive impact on reducing smoking among the general population have often proven ineffective in reaching disadvantaged groups, worsening tobacco-related ," said Jennifer Cantrell, DrPH, MPA, and Assistant Director for Research and Evaluation at Legacy®, a national public health foundation devoted to reducing in the U.S. "It's critical to examine the impact of tobacco policies such as warning labels across ."

Senior author Vish Viswanath, associate professor of society, human development, and health at Harvard School of Public Health, said, "There is a nagging question whether benefits from social policies accrue equally across ethnic and racial minority and social class groups. The evidence from this paper shows that this new policy of mandated Graphic Health Warnings would benefit all groups. Given the disproportionate burden of tobacco-related disease faced by the poor and minorities, mandating strong pictorial warnings is an effective and efficient way to communicate the risk of tobacco use."

The new study, published January 14, 2013, in the journal PLOS ONE, examined reactions to cigarette warning labels from more than 3,300 smokers. Results show that hard-hitting, pictorial graphic warnings are more effective than text-only versions, with smokers indicating the labels are more impactful, credible, and have a greater effect on their intentions to quit. Moreover, the study found that the stronger impact of pictorial warnings was similar across vulnerable subpopulations, with consistent reactions across race/ethnicity, education, and income.

"The implementation of graphic warning labels appears to be one of the few tobacco control policies that have the potential to reduce communication inequalities across groups," Cantrell said.

"Tobacco use is a social justice issue," added Donna Vallone, PhD, Senior Vice President for Research and Evaluation at Legacy®. "Given that low income and minority communities have higher smoking rates and suffer disproportionately from tobacco's , studies like this show us that graphic warning labels can help us reach these subgroups in a more effective way, ultimately saving more lives."

Explore further: Pictures effective in warning against cigarette smoking, study shows

More information: dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.%20pone.0052206

Related Stories

Pictures effective in warning against cigarette smoking, study shows

November 13, 2012
Health warning labels (HWLs) on cigarette packages that use pictures to show the health consequences of smoking are effective in reaching adult smokers, according to the results of a new study published in the December issue ...

Research shows graphic images get smokers' attention

December 21, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but its worth might just be measurable in terms of lives, according to research by a University of South Carolina public health professor.

Graphic warning labels reduce demand for cigarettes

August 8, 2011
Will graphic cigarette package warning labels significantly reduce demand? A new study suggests it will.

Recommended for you

Wine is good for you—to a point

January 18, 2018
The Mediterranean diet has become synonymous with healthy eating, but there's one thing in it that stands out: It's cool to drink wine.

Sleep better, lose weight?

January 17, 2018
(HealthDay)—Sleeplessness could cost you when it's time to stand on your bathroom scale, a new British study suggests.

Who uses phone apps to track sleep habits? Mostly the healthy and wealthy in US

January 16, 2018
The profile of most Americans who use popular mobile phone apps that track sleep habits is that they are relatively affluent, claim to eat well, and say they are in good health, even if some of them tend to smoke.

Improvements in mortality rates are slowed by rise in obesity in the United States

January 15, 2018
With countless medical advances and efforts to curb smoking, one might expect that life expectancy in the United States would improve. Yet according to recent studies, there's been a reduction in the rate of improvement in ...

Teens likely to crave junk food after watching TV ads

January 15, 2018
Teenagers who watch more than three hours of commercial TV a day are more likely to eat hundreds of extra junk food snacks, according to a report by Cancer Research UK.

Can muesli help against arthritis?

January 15, 2018
It is well known that healthy eating increases a general sense of wellbeing. Researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) have now discovered that a fibre-rich diet can have a positive influence ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.