Do you think graphic warnings on cigarette packets help smokers consider the health risks? According to a study published in the journal Communication Research, the graphic warning labels with images of diseased mouth or lungs don’t appear to be a deterrent. Researchers at the University of Illinois said the primary reason these warnings don’t work is that many people perceive them as “a threat to their freedom, choice or autonomy.” And smokers respond accordingly.
It angers people that they are being manipulated
Nicole LaVoie, the lead author of the study, said most people don’t like these labels, whether they are smokers or non-smokers. She added that the graphic warnings make people angry that they are being manipulated, and it makes them “express negative thoughts about packaging.” It also makes people think that the government is being “overly domineering.”
The strongest such response came from study participants with high psychological reactance, a personality trait that makes people more prone to resistant and negative thoughts. The study involved 435 students between ages 18 and 25 years. A total of 76 participants were smokers. Researchers said 62.3% people were identified as white, and two-thirds of the group were women.
Graphic warnings may create a boomerang effect
Each participant received a package of a popular brand of cigarettes. Half of the non-smokers and half the smokers were given packages with graphic warnings. Others received packages with written warnings. All the graphic images were approved by the USFDA for use in the United States. All the participants were given a questionnaire after viewing the package to measure their reaction to the package.
Researchers said smokers tend to measure highly in psychological reactance. Graphic warnings create a “boomerang effect” by causing them to do what they are being warned against. Some countries where graphic images have been used have witnessed a decline in smoking rates. But LaVoie says it could be due to other control measures such as tax increases that might have been implemented at the same time as warning labels.