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Graphic Images On Cigarette Packages: Do They Work?

Cigarette packages in the US don't have graphic images yet, but they will soon.

cigarette package from Canada

Photo: Jordan Dawe (Flickr)

An example of a cigarette package from Canada.

Dear A Moment of Science,

I was traveling abroad and noticed that outside the United States, cigarette packages include really graphic, scary images– things like diseased lungs, rotting teeth, a guy smoking through a hole in his throat. So, how well do these images work to get people to stop smoking? And does this exist in the United States?

Images Or No Images?

Last question first: Cigarette packages in the US don’t have graphic images yet, but they will soon. The FDA announced that by 2012, cigarettes for sale in the United States have to include one of nine graphic images of the sort our listener mentioned.

As for the first question how well do the images work to deter smokers there’s some evidence that they may work quite well.

Canadian Examples

For example, Canada has required graphic images on cigarette packs for more than a decade. And smoking there has declined from 24 percent of the population to about 18 percent.

Of course, it’s difficult to know how much of the decrease in smoking was due to graphic images, and how much was due to other factors such as increased cigarette taxes.

Difficult To Predict

So, bottom line, it’s hard to know or predict exactly how well the images work to get people to quit smoking. But there’s strong evidence that the images are difficult to ignore. And experts hope that they’ll help direct people’s attention to written warnings about the serious health hazards of smoking, and to 1 800 QUIT NOW numbers that will also be required on cigarette packaging.

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