Young smokers who view graphic anti-smoking images on cigarette packs are more likely to kick the habit than those who read verbal warnings, according to the first-ever brain-scanning study on the subject.
Though 77 countries around the country require graphic images of dirty lungs, blackened teeth and emaciated lung-cancer patients, the Health Ministry has for years eschewed graphic images, preferring warnings like “smoking endangers your fetus,” “smoking can cause impotence” and “smoking causes premature aging of the skin.”
According to recently published research in Addictive Behaviors Reports and carried out at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, DC, the graphic images trigger activity in brain areas involved in emotion, decision- making and memory.
The results suggest these images could effectively warn smokers about cigarettes’ health consequences, said oncology Prof. Darren Mays of Georgetown’s Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.
“What we found in this study reinforces findings from previous research where scientists have asked participants to report how they think and feel in response to graphic warnings on cigarettes,” said Mays. “This study offers us new insights on the biological underpinnings for those responses, bolstering evidence for how these warnings can work.”
The World Health Organization’s 2003 Framework Convention on Tobacco Control recommended that all signatories (including Israel) adopt mandatory graphic warnings on cigarette packs but did not force signatories because it hopes the tobacco-producing US would sign the FCTC.
However, the US government did not, thus making the conditions weaker.
“In Israel, the warnings are verbal,” the Health Ministry said. All warnings on cigarette packs have to be personally approved by the health minister.
“We have 12 versions of verbal warnings in Hebrew and Arabic covering 30% of the surface front and back.”
The verbal warnings have not been replaced by graphic ones in more than a decade even though they are strongly advocated privately by public health professionals in the ministry, and the Israel Council for the Prevention of Smoking enthusiastically backs them in public. As deputy health minister about five years ago, Litzman opposed graphic images in public, arguing that they were “unpleasant” to look at.