A while back, governments in various countries forced cigarette companies into using packaging that was not too favorable for their product. Graphic warning labels started taking up half the cover, shots of rotting teeth, diseased lungs, sick children — anything to help shock people into quitting smoking. A new study says these controversial images are working better than any health advice.
U.S.researchers have shown that graphic warning labels on cigarette packs help smokers remember the warning and the health risks of smoking. Past studies elsewhere have shown that the warnings do make people more aware of the dangers and increase intentions to quit smoking. But these findings are from population studies that look for patterns among large sample sizes.
The new study wanted to see if a smoker can correctly recall a graphic warning or its message. They took 200 smokers and showed them either a text-only warning label or the graphic image used in many non-U.S. countries, with the closest being Canada. (This warning has been proposed in the U.S. and may soon become reality.) They used sophisticated technology that could track eye movement and attention, and participants had to recreate the warnings later to see if they could remember them.
There was a sizeable difference, as 83% of people could recall the graphic label compared to just 50% for the text-only label currently in use. Also, the quicker a smoker looked at the large text in the graphic warning, and the longer they viewed the graphic image, the more likely they were to recall the information correctly.
This shows that drawing attention to the warning can helpÂ smokers remember relevant health information. Smoking’s massively negative effect on health is easily dismissed if we just don’t think about it while lighting up. These graphic labels will make this nearly impossible — all the health dangers will be front and center in people’s minds. It is an effective way to prod people into finally trying to kick the habit as they’ve been planning for so long.
The best health advice sometimes needs to be driven home hard, especially in a world of marketing where there’s tons of competition for our attention. It is never too late to quit smoking. While it seems like an insurmountable task, it is a challenge that many people successfully attack every day.
Hopefully soon it will be even more difficult to ignore the ultra-dangerous impact of lighting up a cigarette and inhaling.