Within the last decade, dozens of countries have moved to create laws ensuring that all cigarette packets have graphic images to show smokers the possible outcomes of their habit. Canada was one of the first in 2001, the UK was in 2008, and Switzerland was one of the more recent additions in 2010, according to the World Health Organization.
A notable exception from the list of countries with these laws is the US, but a new study has thrown into doubt whether these images are as effective as they are widely believed to be.
The University of Illinois studied 435 undergraduates, of which around 1 in 5 (17.5 per cent) were smokers. The students were given either the current plain text cigarette packs or the proposed graphic image packs, and asked questions about them.
Researchers found that regardless of whether the student was a smoker or a non-smoker, they did not like the warning labels.
Doctoral student Nicole LaVoie explained by saying “it makes them angry, it makes them express negative thoughts about the packaging, that they’re being manipulated”.
She went on to explain that these thoughts stemmed from the idea that the pictures in some way threatened the student’s autonomy, and made them feel like the government was being “overly domineering”. Essentially, the students didn’t like that their freedom might in some way be compromised by these suggestive health warnings.
However, as the WHO points out, such labels are one of the simplest and cost-effective ways governments have of warning people about the possible side effects of smoking. The WHO also says that, according to numerous studies worldwide, such labels are more likely to be noticed than text-only labels, and have been linked to higher motivation to quit smoking, too.