Graphic images designed for shock value.
The FDA recently revealed new graphic warnings for cigarette labels, which are causing rather strong reactions among both smokers and non-smokers alike. It's been more than two decades since any type of new label was released, and these new warnings paint an ugly picture of the negative physical effects of smoking
. They will be required to cover at least 50% of every pack of cigarettes sold in the US by the year 2013.
The government is finally catching on to what Hollywood has known all alone. Graphic images provoke strong reactions. Until now, only text warnings have appeared on cigarette labels. However, the new images were designed to deliver shock value. They include a mouth filled with rotting teeth and a man with tracheotomy hole. This plan was put into action by the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act , which was passed in 2010. This act gave the government regulatory authority over the marketing and label of tobacco.
Tobacco products are responsible for nearly 450,000 deaths each year
. According to the FDA's website, “The introduction of these warnings is expected to have a significant public health impact by decreasing the number of smokers, resulting in lives saved, increased life expectancy and lower medical costs.”
Experts in the field explained that the only way to do deliver truly effective warning labels is to elicit strong emotions such as fear or empathy. Prior to the new images, the FDA had released 36 potential warnings and made them available for public comment. The images included a mother blowing smoke in a baby's face and a diseased lung. But some experts questioned if they went far enough.How graphic is graphic enough?
The nine new graphic warnings, however, do appear to fulfill the requirements of eliciting a strong emotional reaction. As a matter of fact, some consumers expressed concern that the new images may be too explicit for young children who see them on display at stores. One high school student stated she screamed when she saw the images. Still, a 21-year-old had a similar reaction but believes the images may deter smoking.
But you can't stop with a picture alone. The size of the picture is equally important.
Dr. Joanna Cohen, PhD, director of the Institute for Global Tobacco Control at John Hopkins University says, “Bigger is better, just because people notice the labels more.” She goes on to say that 50% of the pack is not pushing the boundaries too far. Other countries are going even farther. Just recently Australia proposed stripping cigarette packs of their colorful logos and branding and just containing a health warning alongside the product name.But will a nasty image actually get smokers to quit?
A study performed by the CDC found that a quarter of smokers who noticed warning labels indicated they wanted to quit
. More than half of the smokers said the warning label is what prompted their decision. Imagine if the warning label included a picture of a corpse.
However, wanting to quit
and actually quitting
are two different things. For some people, laying down cigarettes for good means understanding the very serious and costly effects of the nasty habit. While graphic images probably don't carry as much weight as increasing the price of cigarettes or smoking bans in the workplace, they are a good first step.