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Pictorial warnings on cigarette packs more effective in inducing smokers to quit than text warnings: Study

10 June 2016

Gruesome photos related to cigarette smoking on cigarette packs have been found to encourage smokers to kick the habit, according to a new study.

"This is the first top-quality evidence available that these warnings do change behaviour," said lead researcher Noel Brewer, an associate professor of health behaviour at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, Health Day reported.

Such images that induce smokers to quit included smoke emerging from a hole (stoma) in the neck, smoke-ravaged lungs, badly stained teeth, or a patient near death.

The research team led by Brewer conducted a four-week trial which revealed that 40-per cent smokers who had seen the visual warnings were likely to try to  quit, as against 34 per cent of those whose packs had only print warnings.

Around 6 per cent of the picture-pack group picture-pack group had quit for a week, by the end of the trial as against 4 per cent of the others.

According to Brewer, the labels worked because the pictures lingered in the minds of smokers. "They didn't feel any more at risk. They didn't think that smoking was any more dangerous, but they were a little more worried, and they couldn't stop thinking about the harms of smoking," he said.

The study revealed that with pictures, smokers were 29 per cent more likely to try quitting.

''Smokers told us that the pictorial warnings didn't make them feel any more at risk for harm from smoking. However, the pictorial warnings made the harms of smoking ever present and vivid, while the usual text warnings were bland, stale, and easy to ignore,'' Brewer said, in an email message to Reuters Health.

Once a week over four weeks, participants in the study visited the researchers' clinic and brought with them an eight-day supply of cigarettes. Researchers then pasted stickers that either had pictures and text, or just text, to participants' cigarette packages.

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