Wednesday, July 13, 2011

More New Research Suggests that Graphic Cigarette Warning Labels Will Not Be Effective in Deterring Smokers

More research, this time published in the journal Human Brain Mapping, suggests that graphic warning labels on cigarette packs will be far less effective in deterring smokers than is being touted by anti-smoking groups and politicians. An article published online ahead of print reports that smokers who are addicted to cigarettes and are deprived of being able to smoke for a short time are unresponsive to fear warnings about the health effects of smoking.

(see: Onur, O. A., Patin, A., Mihov, Y., Buecher, B., Stoffel-Wagner, B., Schlaepfer, T. E., Walter, H., Maier, W. and Hurlemann, R. (2011), Overnight deprivation from smoking disrupts amygdala responses to fear. Human Brain Mapping. doi: 10.1002/hbm.21293).

According to a Bloomberg News summary of the article: "Images of corpses and cancerous lungs on cigarette packs may do little to deter nicotine addicts, judging from new research on how smokers’ brains work. The brain’s fear center becomes desensitized in heavy smokers who haven’t been allowed to light up for 12 hours, a team of doctors in Germany found in a study published today. ... “In those who stop smoking, the activity of the fear center has been lowered so much that they are not very receptive to the scary photos,” Rene Hurlemann, a doctor at the Bonn University Clinic in Germany and one of the study’s authors, said in a statement. Hurlemann and his colleagues recruited 28 young volunteers who consumed an average of 17 cigarettes a day and had used tobacco for nine years, and the same number of non-smokers. The groups were shown images of happy, neutral and fearful faces while researchers recorded their brain activity. They responded in similar ways until the organizers deprived the smokers of tobacco. After just a few hours of deprivation, the smokers’ brains were less responsive to fearful faces, the researchers found."

The Rest of the Story

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 deterring smoking among existing smokers who are addicted to cigarettes.

The findings of this study are in line with the opinion that I expressed in a Bloomberg news story about cigarette warning labels, which is featured on the same page as the story about this study: "Michael Siegel, an associate professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, talks about new U.S. government requirements for cigarette warning labels. Images of a corpse and cancerous lungs are among nine graphic warnings that tobacco companies must start placing on cigarette packs sold in the U.S. next year. Siegel speaks with Carol Massar and Matt Miller on Bloomberg Television's 'Street Smart.'"

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