Testimonial Warning Labels On Tobacco Products More Effective At Motivating Attempts To Quit Smoking: TCORS Report


Cigarette packs have carried warning text in labels since 1966, but these have not dissuaded American adults from smoking, so researchers from the Penn Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science (TCORS) set out to determine how warning labels can be improved encourage quitting smoking.

Currently, there are 36.5 million Americans, or 15 percent of the adult population in the U.S., smoking cigarettes. Researchers have found that using testimonial warning labels, those featuring photos from real smokers harmed by the habit, were more effective at motivating smokers to quit compared to tobacco warning labels that use just text.

Tobacco Warning Labels In The U.S.

At least 77 countries in the world already use images in warning labels for cigarettes. The U.S. tried to be one of them in 2011. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration was set to implement tobacco warning labels with images following mandate from the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.

However, these warning labels were rejected after a legal challenge because they were more emotional than factual, showing fictional images of smokers and mere simulations of body parts affected by disease. The FDA halted their plans then and started researching more effective warning labels for tobacco products.

The study published in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research is a result of that effort. Emily Brennan, Ph.D., the study's lead author, explained that they were aiming to find out how smokers would respond to tobacco warning labels featuring images of real people whose health was affected by their own, or by someone else's, smoking.

Testimonial Warning Labels More Effective

For the study, the researchers tasked adult subjects with viewing three types of warning labels: testimonials, the FDA's previous warning labels, and text-only warning labels. They also recorded the subjects' initial response to seeing the warning labels, as well as their intentions of quitting smoking. After five weeks, the researchers checked on the subjects if they actually attempted quitting smoking and if they succeeded.

Based on their findings, the researchers saw that just 7.4 percent of smokers who were assigned to view text-only warning labels made the attempt to quit their smoking habit. Those who saw testimonial warning labels, however, recorded a 15.4-percent quit attempt rate and were four times likelier to succeed.

According to Joseph Cappella, Ph.D., the study's senior author, testimonial warning labels were likelier to encourage people to quit smoking and stick with it because they were shown the "suffering of real people in real contexts."

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