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Graphic cigarette warnings work

19th June 2012

Researchers in the United States say pictures make the health warning labels on cigarette packets more memorable.

smoker1

In a study of 200 smokers, researchers found images of patients on ventilators made smokers more likely to take notice of the health warnings, which are currently displayed on cigarette packets.

Writing in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the team said that 83% of study participants were able to remember the health warning if it was accompanied by a graphic image.

Only half of study subjects were able to remember the warnings if they saw them only as text.

The research team from the University of Pennsylvania measured how long smokers spent viewing each part of a cigarette advertisement containing warning labels, using eye-tracking technology.

Participants were asked to write down the warnings they had viewed after looking at them, in an attempt to gauge how well they remembered the information contained in them.

They found a link between the accuracy of the smoker's memory and the speed with which their eyes were drawn to the text, as well as the length of time they spent looking at the related image.

Faster readers who looked at images for longer remembered the warnings more accurately, they said.

According to study lead author Andrew Strasser, associate professor at the department of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, the findings are important because they showed the value of adding a graphic warning label.

The study also provides valuable insight into how the warning labels may be effective, which may serve to create more effective warning labels in the future, he said.

It is hoped that, if people are better informed about the risks of smoking, that such labels may prompt them to quit.

The UK government is in the middle of a consultation process over whether to legislate to force tobacco companies to sell cigarettes only in plain, standardised packaging.

Possible outcomes may be cigarettes packaged plainly, with no branding, a uniform colour for all cigarette packets, or standard font, text and images on each packet.

While the tobacco industry initially welcomed the consultation, it said there was no evidence that plain packaging stopped young people from taking up habit in the first place.

According to Jaine Chisholm Caunt of the Tobacco Manufacturers' Association, the government should drop the idea, because it made it easier to make counterfeit cigarettes. The association said standardised packaging would also make life harder for logistics companies and standard retailers who were selling tobacco legally.

However, as only Australia has legislated to require the use of plain packaging so far, there is unlikely to be any data for analysis for some time to come, as the move is still a recent one.

 

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