A joint project conducted by researchers from Ohio State and the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania provides that active smokers are more likely to consider quitting when cigarettes are packaged in packs with graphic images depicting the health damage they are most likely to suffer if they continued smoking.
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This is the first study of its kind to establish facts that graphic warnings on cigarette packs dissuade smokers from continuing with the habit. The research shows that when smokers are presented with graphic images of damage they may likely suffer from regular tobacco use, they tend to think twice before continuing with the habit.
"The graphic images motivated smokers to think more deeply about their habit and the risks associated with smoking," said Ellen Peters, co-author of the study and professor of psychology at The Ohio State University.
The research was published in the journal PLOS ONE.
Abigail Evans, a postdoctoral psychology researcher at Ohio State added that text warnings on cigarette packs are not as effective as graphic warnings containing disturbing images of the results of prolonged smoking.
The graphic warnings used in the study were supplied by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), with one of them containing the image of a man who had undergone tracheostomy smoking through a hole in his throat. A tracheostomy is a surgical operation that creates an opening into the trachea with a tube inserted to provide a passage for air – performed when the pharynx is obstructed by oedema, cancer, or other causes.
Graphic warnings were first approved by the FDA to be used on cigarette packs in 2009, but federal appeals court invalidated this on the grounds that the images created “unabashed attempts to evoke emotion…and browbeat consumers into quitting.”
But Peters insists images do stir emotions, and emotions are needed for anyone to think critically of the risks of anything such as smoking. He added that emotions are required for people to make decisions that can motivate into actions such as quitting smoking.
About 244 adults who smoke between 5-40 cigarettes per day were recruited for the study. They were given their desired brands of cigarettes over a 4-week period – but the cigarettes were in modified packs.
A group received packs containing text warnings such as “Cigarettes cause fatal lung disease,” and another group got this same pack but with graphic images of the dangers of smoking, and a third group received packs with the text and image warnings with additional information on the dangers of cigarettes.
The researchers ultimately found that graphic images compelled smokers to read more text info about the dangers of smoking and the group with graphic and text warnings was more thoughtful at the point of smoking an additional cigarette.
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"The feelings produced by the graphic images acted as a spotlight. Smokers looked more carefully at the packages and, as a result, the health risks fell into the spotlight and led to more consideration of those risks," Peters said.