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Supersize Cigarette Warning Label?

Study: Larger Labels With Pictures -- As in Other Countries -- May Make Smokers Think Twice
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Feb. 6, 2007 -- American cigarette warning labels might be more effective if they were big and graphic -- like those in some other countries, according to a new study.

The news appears in the March issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

In the study, researchers surveyed nearly 15,000 adult smokers in the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Australia to test the effectiveness of the warning labels used in those four countries. The surveys were conducted between 2002 and 2005.

The key finding: The U.S. labels, which were the smallest and least detailed, were also the least effective.

"The current findings, along with previous research, suggest that U.S. smokers might benefit from large graphic warnings on cigarette packages," write the researchers, who include David Hammond, PhD, of Canada's University of Waterloo.

Label Lingo

U.S. cigarette labels include four warnings written on the side of cigarette packages.

Canadian, Australian, and British cigarette warning labels are much bigger, include more health warnings, and appear on the front and back of the packages.

The Canadian label covers half of the front and back of cigarette packages. It includes 16 warnings in print as well as pictures, such as a graphic suggestive of impotenceimpotence and the words "Tobacco use can make you impotent."

The Australian label includes six written warnings but no pictures. It covers a quarter of the front and a third of the back of cigarette packages.

The U.K. revised its cigarette warning label in late 2002, adding 10 written warnings (such as "Smoking when pregnant harms your baby") for a total of 16 written warnings on the front and back of the package. The warning text was also enlarged at that time.

 

World of Warnings

Some other countries get even more graphic with their warning labels, according to the report.

For instance, a Thai label includes a picture of a man smoking, with skulls floating in the background.

A Brazilian label shows an unhappy couple in bed, with a warning about impotence from smoking.

Another label image proposed (but not required) by the European Union is a drawing of a dead man, his eyes covered by a cloth, lying on a table. The words "Smokers die younger" appear next to that image.

Hammond's team didn't analyze the effectiveness of those labels.

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