Checkup: Gory Cigarette Labels: Will They Work?
Quitting Smoking Now Greatly Reduces Serious Risks to Your Health. Thatís one of the warnings printed, by federal law, on all cigarette packages in the United States. But soon, as part of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009, a pack of smokes will include more than just strong words. Starting in October 2012, the label will also feature pictures of a diseased lung, rotting teeth, a guy smoking through a hole in his throat, and other disturbing images.
So will these gory graphics get more people to quit? "My opinion is that the FDA has really hit a sweet spot of information to convey here." Thatís Andrew Strasser, a psychiatrist at the University of Pennsylvania and an anti-smoking expert. "If we look at some of the other countries, and there are over 30 now that use different variations of a graphic warning label plus text, the labels have been effective there in trying to prevent youths from initiating smoking or maybe deterring those that are maybe trying a little bit to progressing to smoke more." For example, in Canada, where cigarette packages have had scary pictures for more than a decade, smoking has declined from about 24 percent of the population to around 18 percent.
Now, itís not entirely clear whether thatís due mainly to the pictures. And you also have to wonder, given than cigarettes are highly addictive, whether American smokers get used to even the most disgusting images over the long haul. Time will tell.
But in the short term, at least, thereís reason to believe that the images are useful. Using an eye tracking system, Strasser has studied what people see when they look at graphically enhanced cigarette packages.
"And clearly having a graphic warning label increase the likelihood that theyíll recall the total message being conveyed." A message that, starting in 2012, will also include a 1-800-QUIT-NOW number.
Iím Jeremy Shere.