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Graphic labels on cigarette packs may improve recall warnings of smoking: Study

Graphic warning labels on cigarette packaging can improve smokers' recall of the health risks associated with smoking, according to a study by the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in the US.

Past studies conducted in Europe and Canada revealed that the warning labels evoke negative responses to smoking, increasing reported intention to quit smoking in smokers and modifying beliefs about smoking dangers.

In the latest study, the participants were randomized to view either text-only warning label ads, which were unaltered along with the Surgeon General’s warning and FTC testing information; or a graphic warning label version, similar to what the FDA had proposed earlier.

An eye tracking technology was used by the research team to test how the participants viewed the layout of the advertisements, and at the same time, each participant also was required to rewrite the warning label text to demonstrate their recall of the information, after reading the ads.

Penn Medicine Department of Psychiatry associate professor and lead author of the new study Andrew Strasser, PhD said the important step in assessing the efficacy of the warning labels is to demonstrate if smokers could precisely recall its content or message.

"Based on this new research, we now have a better understanding of two important questions about how U.S. smokers view graphic warning labels: do smokers get the message and how do they get the message," Strasser said.

The researchers said that the new data demonstrates that drawing attention to the warning label can improve recall of health relevant information, which is also expected to change the framing of the message in the advertisement body. Study on the size, font, color and location of text further may lead to an effective way to draw attention.

The research also provides insight into how the warning labels may be effective, which may serve to create effective warning labels in the future, besides showing the value of adding a graphic warning label.