Research & Insights

A Winning Combination for Anti-Smoking Cigarette Labels

New research suggests that cigarette labels emphasizing the benefits of quitting (rather than the consequences of continuing to smoke) are more likely to motivate young people to kick the habit.

The study, conducted by researcher Darren Mays of the Georgetown University Medical Center and his colleagues, involved more than 700 young smokers who were exposed to a series of cigarette warning labels. The researchers found that by promoting the benefits of quitting, young smokers were more likely to take notice. Their results were published in a 2015 issue of the journal Tobacco Control.

For the study, participants were asked to view one of four series of anti-smoking cigarette package labels. Each series contained packages which combined a graphic medical image with a written description of the medical risks associated with smoking. Two of the series framed these warnings in terms of the loss of health, as recommended by the CDC (“Cigarettes cause cancer”). The other two series flipped these messages to convey the health benefits that come when a person stops smoking (“Quitting smoking reduces the risk of cancer”).

Additionally, two series of labels (one framed with loss of health and one framed with health gains) were placed against a basic brown background with the cigarette brand name written in plain text. The other two series were placed against the background of an unfamiliar cigarette brand, complete with logo.

Participants viewed the warning labels and then answered a series of questions regarding their motivation to quit smoking.

When the warning labels were placed on packages that still contained the cigarette’s brand, both the loss of health warnings and the benefits of quitting labels performed equally well. However, when the labels were placed against the basic brown package, the messages about improving health outcomes were more effective at raising the motivation levels of young smokers to quit.

“Our findings suggest a synergistic effect between health warnings with gain-framed messaging and plain packaging, creating the potential for enhanced public health impact when these regulations are implemented together,” the researchers write.

Tobacco Control

Darren Mays, George Luta, and Kenneth P. Tercyak, Georgetown University Medical Center
Raymond S. Niaura, Georgetown University Medical Center, Schroeder Institute for Tobacco Research and Policy Studies, and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
W. Douglas Evans, George Washington University

Posted: December 21, 2015
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