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Pictures Speak Louder Than Words on Cigarette Labeling

THURSDAY, Jan. 17 (HealthDay News) -- Tobacco warning labels that include graphic pictures of the health consequences of smoking are more effective than text-only warnings among all groups of smokers, according to a new study.

Researchers examined the reactions of more than 3,300 smokers to cigarette warning labels. The smokers said the warnings with graphic pictures were more credible, had a greater impact and strengthened their intention to quit, compared with text-only warnings.

The stronger impact of the pictorial warnings was similar across different racial/ethnic and socioeconomic groups, according to the study, which was published Jan. 14 in the journal PLoS One.

The findings suggest that pictorial warning labels are one of the few tobacco-control policies that can have an effect on all these groups, said Jennifer Cantrell, assistant director for research and evaluation at Legacy, a national public health foundation devoted to reducing tobacco use in the United States.

The study was funded by Legacy and conducted by researchers at Legacy and the Harvard School of Public Health, in Boston.

Given that minority and poor Americans have disproportionately high rates of tobacco-related disease, "mandating strong pictorial warnings is an effective and efficient way to communicate the risk of tobacco use," study senior author Vish Viswanath, associate professor of society, human development and health at the Harvard School of Public Health, said in the news release.

Many experts have said that text-only warnings would be unlikely to be noticed or to have an impact on smokers, the researchers noted.

"Tobacco use is a social justice issue," Donna Vallone, senior vice president for research and evaluation at Legacy, said in the news release. "Given that low-income and minority communities have higher smoking rates and suffer disproportionately from tobacco's health consequences, studies like this show us that graphic warning labels can help us reach these subgroups in a more effective way, ultimately saving more lives."

More than 400,000 Americans die each year from tobacco-related diseases such as cancer, heart disease, stroke and emphysema.

More information

The American Cancer Society offers a guide to quitting smoking.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Harvard School of Public Health/Legacy, news release, Jan. 14, 2013

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