Thursday, September 26, 2013

New Study Finds UK Graphic Cigarette Warning Labels to be Ineffective

A new study published in the journal Tobacco Control reports that the graphic cigarette warning labels implemented in the UK have had no effect on smokers.

The study methodology was as follows: "The UK (UK) became the third country in the European Union to require pictorial warnings on the back of cigarette packs, in October 2008. A repeat cross-sectional survey was conducted with 11–16-year-olds in the UK between August and September 2008 (N=1401) and August and September 2011 (N=1373). At both waves the same text warnings appeared on the front and back of packs, with the only difference being the inclusion of images on the back of packs to support the text warnings in 2011. Warning related measures assessed were salience (noticing, looking closely at warnings), depth of processing (thinking about warnings, discussing them with others), comprehension and credibility (warning comprehensibility, believability and truthfulness), unaided recall, persuasiveness (warnings as a deterrent to smoking), avoidance techniques (eg, hiding packs) and a behavioural indicator (forgoing cigarettes due to warnings)." 

The results were as follows: "For never smokers, warning persuasiveness and thinking about what warnings are telling them when the pack is in sight significantly increased from 2008 to 2011, but warning comprehensibility significantly decreased. For experimental smokers, there was a significant increase from 2008 to 2011 for warning persuasiveness, believing warnings and considering them truthful. For regular smokers, there were no significant changes from 2008 to 2011, except for an increase in hiding packs to avoid warnings and a decrease in warning salience." 

The Rest of the Story

This research adds to the growing body of literature which suggest that graphic cigarette warning labels are largely ineffective, having a negligible effect on smokers. In this study, the warning labels were found not to have increased smoking cessation or even smoking reduction among smokers. Among nonsmokers, there was actually a decrease in warning comprehensibility, although persuasiveness increased.

Overall, these results suggest that the graphic warning labels had only marginal effects, with no effect on smokers.

This is not the kind of evidence that the FDA is going to need in court to support its plan to impose graphic warning labels on cigarettes.

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