(NaturalNews) Graphic pictorial warning labels on tobacco products may make it significantly easier for people to quit smoking, particularly those from disadvantaged racial or economic groups, according to a study published in the journal PLOS ONE.
The research was conducted by researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health and from Legacy, a public health foundation dedicated to reducing U.S. tobacco use.
Numerous studies have shown that economically disadvantaged people and racial and ethnic minorities find it significantly harder to quit tobacco use, and that these are the same populations least likely to be affected by text-only warnings on tobacco products.
"Interventions that have a positive impact on reducing smoking among the general population have often proven ineffective in reaching disadvantaged groups, worsening tobacco-related health disparities," said Jennifer Cantrell, Legacy's Assistant Director for Research and Evaluation. "It's critical to examine the impact of tobacco policies such as warning labels across demographic groups."
Although rates of domestic tobacco use have fallen over the past few decades, more than 400,000 people still die in the United States every year from tobacco-related diseases such as cancer, emphysema, heart disease and stroke. In an effort to reduce this number, Congress passed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act in 2009, mandating that by September 2012, all cigarette packages and advertisements carry graphic health warnings visually depicting the negative health consequences of smoking. Implementation of this law has been blocked; however, by lawsuits from the tobacco industry.
"There is a nagging question whether benefits from social policies accrue equally across ethnic and racial minority and social class groups," senior author Vish Viswanath said.
"The evidence from this paper shows that this new policy of mandated Graphic Health Warnings would benefit all groups. Given the disproportionate burden of tobacco-related disease faced by the poor and minorities, mandating strong pictorial warnings is an effective and efficient way to communicate the risk of tobacco use."
Graphic warnings have more impact, credibility
The researchers evaluated more than 3,300 smokers' reactions to various cigarette warning labels. They found that smokers consistently rated hard-hitting pictorial warning labels as more credible than text-only labels, as well as having a greater impact and a stronger effect on their intentions to quit. This effect was consistent across all education, income and racial or ethnic groups, leading the researchers to decisively conclude that pictorial warnings are more effective than text-only ones.
"The implementation of graphic warning labels appears to be one of the few tobacco control policies that have the potential to reduce communication inequalities across groups," Cantrell said.
Legacy Senior Vice President for Research and Evaluation Donna Vallone noted that this consistency across groups makes the implementation of graphic warning labels particularly important.
"Tobacco use is a social justice issue," she said. "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."
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