Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Yet Another New Study Suggests Likely Ineffectiveness of Graphic Cigarette Warning Labels

A new study published in Tobacco Control reports the results of a qualitative examination of the emotional impact of graphic cigarette warning labels. Volunteers were shown 35 different graphic cigarette warning labels developed by the European Commission and rated their emotional reactions. The study found that very few of the warnings (only 4 of the 35) elicited high levels of arousal, therefore suggesting that these warnings are largely ineffective in influencing behavior. Among youth, the messages were even less effective in eliciting emotional arousal. And to make matters worse, a significant number of images (17%) actually elicited positive responses.

(See: Munoz MA, et al.The emotional impact of European tobacco-warning images. Tobacco Control 2011; doi: 10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2011-050070.)

The study concludes: "If the aim of the European anti-tobacco campaign, based on aversive warning images, is to prompt negative attitudes towards smoking and predispose smokers to quit smoking by activating the defensive-avoidance motivational system, our results question the effectiveness of most of the proposed images. ... Considering that young people are currently one of the main marketing targets of tobacco firms in the world, the proposed tobacco-warning images might be particularly ineffective for this target population unless more arousing unpleasant pictures are used. ... the present results suggest that the warning images proposed by the European Commission for tobacco packages might have limited effectiveness in reducing tobacco consumption in the general population because most of the proposed images were evaluated as [only] moderately unpleasant and arousing. Because such images may not be capable of inducing negative attitudes and avoidance behaviors, the question of their effectiveness remains open."

The Rest of the Story

This study adds to a growing body of evidence that the graphic cigarette warning labels which are the centerpiece of the FDA's strategy to reduce tobacco use are likely to be only marginally effective.

This research adds to a body of psychology and neurophysiology research which suggests that graphic warning labels on cigarette packages will have very little effect in either deterring smoking among existing smokers who are addicted to cigarettes or among youth.

While almost no scientific studies support the hypothesis that graphic warning labels will cause smokers to quit, a wide range of evidence suggests that this intervention is unlikely to be very effective.

I believe that if the national anti-smoking groups and members of Congress truly wished to reduce smoking rates, they should have implemented the tobacco companies' recommendations, rather than relying upon warnings on the cigarette packs to discourage smoking. The tobacco companies' recommendation for the federal government was to "use its power under the Spending Clause ... to condition receipt of federal funds on States’ allocation of MSA funds in accordance with CDC recommendations."

I believe that if the national anti-smoking groups and members of Congress who supposedly want to reduce smoking rates had implemented the tobacco companies' recommendations, rather than become obsessed with the inane idea of asking the FDA to regulate the "safety" of tobacco products and relying upon warnings on the cigarette packs to discourage smoking, the field of tobacco control would be in a drastically better place than it is today.

Imagine if all 50 states implemented tobacco control programs similar to that in California, the only state with a sustained, comprehensive tobacco control program for the past two decades. Imagine if all states implemented anti-smoking television commercials like those used in the "truth" campaign.

This is where the anti-smoking groups and Congress should have directed their efforts over the past five years, rather than creating an untenable system by which the agency charged with protecting the nation's food and drug supply is charged with somehow ensuring that cigarettes are "safe," which is an impossible task that wastes precious resources and the centerpiece of the anti-smoking strategy is to scare people using graphic warning labels that in reality engender very little emotional response.

I think it is embarrassing that at the end of the day, the tobacco companies - and not the national anti-smoking groups (i.e, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, etc.) - have put together an effective strategy for reducing tobacco use, while the national anti-smoking groups have instead created a purposeless federal bureaucracy that is going to spend millions of dollars but effect no substantial changes in either cigarette safety or cigarette smoking rates.

The rest of the story is that the graphic warning labels are yet another part of the hoax that is the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. This legislation was designed to make it look like politicians and health groups were fighting Big Tobacco when in fact, the legislation does virtually nothing to put a significant dent in smoking rates.

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