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Smokers More Likely to Recall Graphic Warning Labels

Published: Thursday, Aug 16, 2012
Smokers are better able to remember the printed health-risk warnings that appear in cigarette advertisements and labels when the messages include images, according to a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine in July.

A team of investigators from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia launched the study in light of the FDA’s decision to require cigarette packages and advertisements to feature larger health warnings that include graphic images, such as a patient hooked up to medical machines and a man smoking through a hole in his throat.

The changes were scheduled to take effect by September 2012, but are on hold due to litigation filed in November 2011 by four tobacco companies, which argue that the new labels would violate their First Amendment rights, according to lead author Andrew A. Strasser, PhD, and his colleagues.

Conducted between November 2008 and 2009, the study was designed to evaluate differences in the way smokers viewed and recalled text-only cigarette danger warnings as compared with those presented with an image. Eye-tracking techniques were used to determine the viewing patterns of 200 daily smokers who participated in the study, and recall was later assessed.

Correct recall of the warning label occurred among 83% of those who had viewed a graphic message and among 50% of those who had viewed a text-only communication (P = .0001), Strasser et al wrote. Better recall was associated with more immediate viewing of the text and longer viewing of the image, the authors found.


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