Graphic testimonial warning on tobacco products more effective

Graphic testimonial warning on tobacco products more effective
Graphic testimonial warning on tobacco products more effective

NEW DELHI:  Warning labels featuring photos of cancer patients with testimonials are more effective in getting smokers to quit than the text-only labels currently in use in some countries like the US.

This is the conclusion of a new study by researchers at the Penn Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science (TCORS) at the Annenberg School for Communication. Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States but cigarette packaging has only required textual warning labels about the health risks of smoking since 1966.

Some 15 per cent of US adults – 36.5 million Americans – currently smoke cigarettes.

At least 77 nations around the world, including India, use images as a part of their cigarette warning labels.

However, a legal challenge by the American tobacco industry led to these labels being rejected in large part because they were emotional rather than factual.     These images showed things like fictional photographs of smokers and simulations of diseased body parts.

In response, the FDA withdrew their original labels and began a research campaign to rethink and redesign the labels.

The new study, published in Nicotine & Tobacco Research, tested images that graphically showed real people who had been harmed by smoking – an appeal that is both factual and emotional.

“Our aim in this study was to find out how smokers respond to cigarette pack warning labels that use photographs of real people whose health has been affected by their own, or by someone else’s, smoking,” says the lead author Emily Brennan, Ph.D., David Hill Research Fellow at the Cancer Council Victoria in Australia.

Adult smokers viewed several labels from one of three categories: labels that showed a photograph of a real person who had been harmed by smoking, some of which were accompanied by a short text description of the person; the FDA’s previous image-based warning labels; or the text-only warning labels currently in use in the United States.

Participants were then asked to report their initial response to the labels and their intentions to quit smoking.

Five weeks later, the researchers followed up to see if the smokers had made any attempts to quit, and if so, how successful they had been.

Among the smokers who viewed the text-only labels, 7 point 4 per cent of smokers attempted to quit in the subsequent five weeks.

Those who viewed the testimonial photos from real smokers, however, had a quit attempt rate of 15 point 4 per cent – roughly double – and were four times as likely to have been successful.

There was no additional advantage of supplementing the testimonial photos with a caption – for example, “Terrie: Died from cancer at age 53.”

“There’s a stickiness to the testimonial photos – the suffering of real people in real contexts – and they increased the likelihood that people would attempt to quit and stay quit,” says senior author Joseph N Cappella, Gerard R Miller Professor of Communication at the Annenberg School, suggesting that people are more engaged with facts when those facts are imbued with the emotions of real life. (AGENCIES)

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