Graphic images on cigarette packs of diseased body parts and other smoking horrors may not have the desired effect on smokers themselves, a new study finds.
Many smokers kept cigarette packs with gruesome warning images hidden, but the images didn't have a lasting effect on their smoking habits, researchers discovered after presenting thousands of specially designed cigarette packs to smokers in California.
Graphic warning labels are used on cigarette packs in more than 120 countries. They were mandated by Congress in 2009, but have been held up by legal challenges from the tobacco industry.
"Prior to the study, we found that many smokers in the U.S. were discreet and reported hiding their usual pack in public settings. The packs with graphic warning labels had their main effect on those who were least likely to hide their packs prior to the study," said study co-author David Strong, a professor at the University of California, San Diego School of Public Health.
"We found no evidence that graphic warning-labeled packs changed smoking behavior over the year-long study," he added in a university news release.
For the study, researchers created cigarette packs with images used on cigarette packs in Australia. They showed a diseased foot, a newborn with a breathing tube or throat cancer.
They then had 357 smokers in San Diego buy their preferred brand of cigarette from a study website. The smokers received their cigarettes in one of three pack designs: with a graphic warning label, a blank pack or in a standard pack available in the United States. About 19,000 packs were delivered to the participants.
Those who received cigarette packs with graphic warning labels hid their packs 38% more often, but stopped hiding them when they returned to regular packs without the graphic labels, according to the study. The findings are published in the June 2 online issue of the journal JAMA Network Open.
Those who received cigarettes in a standard U.S. pack or in a blank pack did not change their pack-hiding behavior.
Overall, the participants continued to smoke as often as they did before and after the study.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlines the health risks of smoking.
SOURCE: University of California, San Diego, news release, June 2, 2022