• May 20, 2024

U.S. warnings debate under way

 U.S. warnings debate under way

With talk of cigarette-pack graphic health warnings arising again in the U.S., the government watchdog group, the Center for Regulatory Effectiveness (CRE), has issued a mild warning about the effectiveness of shocking warnings.

The CRE’s warning comes in the form of a 2003 piece from Regarding the Pain of Others by the late Susan Sontag, in which she commented on a decision by health authorities in Canada to add shocking photographs to existing textural cigarette-pack warnings.

Sontag said a study had ‘somehow calculated’ that packs with such pictures would be 60 times more likely to inspire smokers to quit than would packs with only textural warnings.

‘Let’s assume this is true,’ Sontag was quoted as saying. ‘But one might wonder, for how long? Does shock have term limits?

‘Right now the smokers of Canada are recoiling in disgust, if they do look at these pictures. Will those still smoking five years from now still be upset?

‘Shock can become familiar. Shock can wear off. Even if it doesn’t, one can not look. People have means to defend themselves against what is upsetting – in this instance, unpleasant information for those wishing to continue to smoke. This seems normal, that is, adaptive.

‘As one can become habituated to horror in real life, one can become habituated to the horror of certain images.’

In 2011, the US Food and Drug Administration was poised to roll out a series of graphic warning labels for use on tobacco products, as mandated by the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. However, a legal challenge by the tobacco industry led to the labels being rejected, in large part because they were found to be emotional rather than factual.

The FDA withdrew their original labels and began to rethink the labels.

Earlier this month, researchers at the Penn Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science at the Annenberg School for Communication were quoted in a ScienceDaily story as saying that they hoped the data from their study, along with findings from similar studies, would lead to the adoption of more effective warning labels.

The researchers said they had shown that warning labels featuring photos of real smokers who were harmed by their habit were more effective in getting smokers to quit than were the text-only labels currently in use

In addition, their study had shown that the ‘testimonial images’ were equally as effective as the photo-based labels that the FDA tried to impose previously.

The new study, Potential Effectiveness of Pictorial Warning Labels That Feature the Images and Personal Details of Real People, was due to be published in Nicotine & Tobacco Research.