For some time, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been pushing for big tobacco companies to place graphic images on cigarette warning labels. While there has bene pushback, a new study suggests such graphic images may actually make warning labels more effective.
This study examined nine pictorial warning labels (PWLs) proposed by the FDA–each label differing from the others in terms of imagery and text. The study’s main objective was to investigate the effect of these images and text on smoker’s attention and his or her ability to recall the content of the label.
During the course of the study, 120 daily smokers were randomly assigned to view PWLs that had both common and differing labels while having their eye movements recorded. The study’s participants were then asked to recall label content immediately after seeing the labels and then 5 days later.
The study found that overall, the images were viewed more and recalled better than the text. The study concluded that PWLs that were designed with consistent visual and textual message were more easily recalled by those who saw them. It also found that images captured and held smokers’ attention better than text-only warning labels, a finding that supports the FDA’s push for big tobacco companies to begin to include them on packages and products.
Tobacco companies have argued that graphic warning labels are often too graphic, emotionally charged and not always based on facts. The FDA and supporters of graphic warning labels often argue that requiring pictorial warning labels would better communicate the risks associated with smoking more so than text-only warnings.
You can read a summary of the study here.