Key changes to cigarette packaging may help decrease smoking rates, based on a recent study that links picture warnings on cigarette packs to increased quit attempts.
Since 1966, the United States has required text warnings about the harms of smoking on cigarette packs. In 2009 laws were revised, adding picture warnings that help illustrate the negative effects of smoking on health. The new warnings include pictures of rotting teeth and people dying of cancer, which experts argue help make the consequences of smoking more real. Currently, 77 countries require similar warnings in an effort to alert smokers and reduce smoking rates.
The problem is that few studies have actually showed that picture warnings will reduce smoking. With this argument, the tobacco industry had the law thrown out by the U.S. Court of Appeals. But the fight is far from over.
In a recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers produced hard evidence that picture warnings on cigartte packs actually do work. The study randomly assigned 2,149 smokers to two types of cigarette packaging—those with standard text warnings and those with picture warnings about the harms of smoking. The study lasted four weeks, during which time participants completed surveys about quit attempts and their opinions about smoking.
Based on survey responses, it’s clear that picture warnings had a meaningful impact on smokers. Researchers found that picture warnings increased negative emotional reactions, thinking about the harms of smoking, conversations about quitting and intentions to quit smoking.
After trial completion, researchers found that smokers receiving picture warnings were 29% more likely to quit smoking during the four-week trial than those with text-only warnings. Those receiving picture warnings were also 53% more likely to quit within the first three weeks of the study than those with text-only warnings.
Based on findings, authors conclude that adding picture warnings to cigarette packs in the United States would, in fact, discourage smoking. Not only do picture warnings appear to increase intentions to quit smoking, they help increase actual quit rates. Experts hope that these findings strengthen the case for picture warnings on cigarettes and ultimately help combat smoking—the leading preventable cause of death in the United States.