Shocking cigarette images impact smokers

by | Nov 19, 2012 | News

By Erin Eaton

It is now mandatory for Canadian cigarette companies to display a warning that occupies 75 per cent of the package. PHOTO BY ERIN EATON

Yellow-toothed mouths and ghostly cancer patients are the typical images haunting Canadian cigarette packages these days.

According to a study released by the University of South Carolina, warnings that feature graphic pictures of debilitated smokers are more effective than those with just words.

Researchers recruited 1,000 adult smokers, assessing their education, salary, habits and health literacy prior to conducting the study. Participants then ranked a series of warning messages based on credibility, effectiveness and personal relevance.

Individuals with lower education and health literacy found images to be significantly more credible and effective than word-only messages. The majority of all participants found the most graphic images to have the biggest personal impact.

“They’re terrifying. I try not to look at them,” Valerie Wahl, a 26-year-old Humber business administration student who smokes, told Humber News. “I wish they were on packages when I was younger and more impressionable. At this point they just make me feel guilty.”

Earlier this month, the Canadian Cancer Association also released a study about cigarette packages, ranking warning labels from across 198 countries. Rankings were based on the size and types of images used.

Canada ranked fourth worldwide for the strength of its cigarette-pack messaging, while Australia topped the charts after being the first country to pass legislation requiring plain packaging, free of company-specific branding.

Jason Powell, Humber dean of health sciences, told Humber News Canada has been a leader in tobacco cessation initiatives, but there is still work to be done.

“We know that it’s cancer causing. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it. Smoking causes cancer. We know that, yet we’re still permitting them to sell their products,” Powell told Humber News. “From a health perspective, where do we draw the line? What are you allowed to sell and not sell?”

Powell said the graphic images serve as a great form of health communication, but play just a small part of what’s required to continue changing attitudes about smoking.

“Society in general is more conscious of the significant health effects of smoking thanks to a wide range of campaigns, educational opportunities and leaders. There’s thankfully less appetite nowadays than there was in previous decades, and it will hopefully keep improving.”