Graphic Images on Cigarette Packs a Turn-Off for Smokers

THURSDAY Aug. 18, 2011 -- Smokers are less likely to buy cigarettes if they are in plain, unbranded packages with warning labels featuring graphic images of cancer, a new study finds.

Susquehanna University researchers held an experimental auction with 404 adult smokers bidding on four different kinds of cigarette packages.

One package had a text-only warning about the health effects of smoking that covered 50 percent of one side of the pack, which meets current U.S. policy. Another had a text-only message that covered the lower half of the front, back and one side of the pack.

The third package had a text warning with a photo depicting mouth cancer, and the fourth package featured the same text warning and graphic cancer photo -- but in a plain pack with all brand color and symbols removed.

"We found that the label with just the front text warning had little effect on consumers," study co-author and professor of economics Matthew Rousu said in a university news release. "However, demand was significantly lower for packs with grotesque images, with the lowest demand associated with the plain, unbranded pack."

Bids for the plain, unbranded packs with the graphic photo of mouth cancer were 17 percent lower than the bids for packages with the current U.S. warning label.

The study appears in the September issue of the journal Health Policy.

New cigarette warning labels, including graphic images of lung and mouth cancer, are scheduled to be introduced by the Food and Drug Administration in September 2012.

"Results from our study suggest that the new health warnings with graphic pictures will reduce demand for cigarettes," Rousu said.

"Regulators should consider health warnings with graphic pictures, but also plain packaging policies for tobacco products," he added. "Color and brand imagery can support false beliefs about reduced risks of some brands."

More information

The American Cancer Society offers a guide to quitting smoking.

Posted: August 2011


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