Study: Graphic Cigarette Warnings Help Smokers Quit
Labels are not on packs in U.S., unlike Canada and other countries
Jul. 21, 2014
A new study says those graphic labels you see on cigarette packs in other countries help people quit smoking. But we probably won't see those labels in the U.S.anytime soon.
"It's clear that once people see the labels, the same psychological and emotional processes are involved in making people consider quitting smoking," said Hua-Hie Yong of the Cancer Council Victoria in Australia, who was the author of the study that looked at reactions to the labels from 5,000 smokers in the U.S., Australia, Canada and Great Britain. It showed that the small warning labels found on U.S. cigarette packs were more likely to quit the more they noticed the warnings. However, larger warning labels that included graphic pictures, such as those on cigarettes sold in Canada and Australia, were more effective at encouraging smokers to quit. The study was published in the journal Health Psychology.
The results are clear, according to one doctor who would like to see those labels in the U.S. "These labels work. They prevent people from smoking," said Dr. Michael Busk, System Executive with St. Vincent Health, Wellness & Preventive Care Institute. "One of (the labels) shows somebody smoking out of their trachiostomy tube - the hole in the neck to go to the lungs when someone has had reconstructive surgery of the upper throat from cancer."
Smoking rates have dropped dramatically in the U.S., from about 40-percent when U.S. Surgeon General Luther Terry issued his first warning 50 years ago to around 19-percent today. But Busk says the rate is no longer dropping, meaning that younger smokers are replacing older smokers who either quit or die. "About 90-percent of smokers start when they are under the age of 18 - some studies show it's closer to 100-percent. And half of all smokers start before the age of 15," Busk says.
While the graphic warning labels may help, they probably will not replace the text-only warnings on cigarettes sold in the U.S. anytime soon. The Food and Drug Administration attempted to mandate the labels in 2011, but tobacco companies sued, saying the labels violated the First Amendment by forcing them to engage in the government's anti-smoking advocacy. A federal judge ruled in favor of the tobacco companies, and the ruling was upheld by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. The Obama administration declined to appeal to the Supreme Court, instead saying it would come up with different warning labels to replace the ones used since 1985.