Study: Graphic images on cigarette packs reduce demand

Cigarette packs depicting grotesque photos of cancer received lower bids than packs featuring current US text warning label, researchers found.

August 21, 2011 15:20
2 minute read.
Packs of cigarettes for sale at a kiosk.

311_ciggies. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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Graphic images and slogans on cigarette packages will significantly reduce smoker demand, a new study suggests.

Current US policy requires tobacco companies to cover 50 percent of one side of a cigarette pack with a text warning, but the US Food and Drug Administration recently unveiled nine new cigarette warning labels. The labels, to be unveiled in September 2012, include images of lung and mouth cancer.

A sample of 404 adult smokers from the US participated in an experimental auction on cigarette packs with four different kinds of warning labels. All packs featured the same message: Smoking causes mouth cancer. However, the displayed message on each pack differed from the text, placement and imagery.

"We found that the label with just the front text warning had little effect on consumers," says study co-author Matthew Rousu, professor of economics at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pa. "However, demand was significantly lower for packs with grotesque images, with the lowest demand associated with the plain, unbranded pack."
The bids for cigarette packs that had a grotesque photo and no brand imagery received bids that were 17 percent lower than the bids for the package with the current US warning label.

"Results from our study suggest that the new health warnings with graphic pictures will reduce demand for cigarettes," says Rousu. He adds that regulators should consider health warnings with graphic images, but also plain packaging policies for tobacco products.

“Colour and brand imagery can support false beliefs about reduced risks of some brands,” Rousu says.  Though the study can’t address how the new labels will affect non-smokers, Rousu said one would assume those considering smoking will not start because they are turned off by the images.

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