Cigarette warnings get more graphic

    Graphic visuals of rotting teeth or a body in a coffin will be on every pack of cigarettes sold in the United States by October 2012 The US Department of Health and Human Services hopes this aggressive campaign will illustrate health issues related to smoking cigarettes and encourage the 20 percent of adults who continue to smoke to stop. Most smokers spending the day in Center City Philadelphia had the same initial reaction when they looked at the proposed images. The graphic close-up of a person’s yellow and decaying teeth incited the biggest reaction. Jeremy Kees is Professor of Marketing at the Villanova School of Business. He’s not surprised the more realistic images cause the greatest reaction. He has tested the effects of graphic visuals on cigarette packaging and consumer behavior. He found that “cartoon-ish” images are easily discounted. The more shocking and realistic the visuals are, the more likely a consumer is to quit. He hopes the FDA moves away from the less jarring images  “It would be a huge mistake to consider any warning that might be perceived as not believable,” Kees said. “That just gives smokers a very easy excuse to think that all government warnings are a joke, not real, and thus not important to pay attention to.” Kees says one reason the FDA may be hesitant to use potentially offensives images is because studies show these highly graphic images often cause intense anger among smokers. “Despite the strong negative reactions, these highly graphic warnings performed best on quit intention measures,” Kees said. According to the Food and Drug Administration, smoking is the leading cause of preventable and premature death each year. Over 440,000 people die in the United States because of smoking related illnesses. Smokers also account for 90 percent of lung cancer deaths each year. Amy Pierce from North Philadelphia has been smoking for ten years. She says the pictures are disturbing but still won’t be enough for nicotine addicts. “Basically unless it comes from within and I have a deep desire to want or need to quit, I’ll look at the information, I’ll hear it, but it’s really not going to affect my decision either way,” Pierce said. Studies suggest graphic images have a larger impact on the public than the current Surgeon General’s warnings. The FDA is asking for the public’s opinion on the 36 proposed images through January 9th.  The FDA will then select the final nine images and text warnings that will appear on cigarette packages.

    • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal