Graphic images of diseases are not pleasing to the eyes and yet they do not seem discouraging enough for smokers.
In a recent study published in the online journal Communication Research, the researchers discovered that the graphic warning labels in cigarette packages are perceived by the people as a threat or a violation of their freedom of choice leading to more negative thoughts and responses.
The group of researchers from the University of Illinois led by Nicole LaVoie, a doctoral student in communication, conducted a study involving 435 undergraduate students between the ages 18 to 25. Non-smokers comprised around 82.5% of the sample population while the remaining 17.5% were smokers. Furthermore, approximately two-thirds of the participants are female and only one-third are males. The study population is mainly composed of whites at around 62.3% while the others are multi-racial or non-white.
All the participants were given a package of a popular brand of cigarettes. Half of the smokers and half of the non-smokers were given a package with graphic images, while the other half were given packages with only written warnings that are currently used in the United States. A questionnaire about personalities and reactions to the package were also given to the participants for assessment.
Each packaging contains one large, graphic image which may either be diseased lungs, a diseased mouth, a person dying of lung cancer, a person afflicted by heart disease or stroke, or a corpse. These images have long been approved by U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in the U.S. since 2012. However, the implementation was hindered by various lawsuits against the use of these images.
According to the results, the participants were generally displeased by the graphic images whether they are a smoker or not. Both smokers and non-smokers felt as if their freedom is being taken away and that they are being manipulated by the government using these graphic warnings. The strongest response was observed on participants with high psychological reactance; this personality trait makes people more prone to negative and resistant thoughts when they perceive that they’re being told what to do, LaVoie said. Professor Brian Quick, one of the co-authors of the study, added that psychological reactance can lead to “boomerang effect in which the threatened individual will perform what they’re being warned against.
Related studies from other countries reported a decrease in smoking rates after the implementation of graphic images. However, LaVoie said that in most cases this policy coincides with other tobacco control measures such as tax increases and smoking bans which could affect the results.