Pictorial warnings on cigarette packs motivate smokers to quit.

While there is still a row going on about the size of pictorial warnings on the cigarette packs, a new study claims that warnings in images as well as text are more likely to motivate people (especially young adults) to quit smoking, making them understand the various dangers and the effects of smoking.

According to a new research by the Washington State University, Vancouver, published online in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine, pictorial warnings or warnings with images and texts are more effective and influential in quitting smoking.

Although more and more evidence support graphic warnings in discouraging smokers, there has been very less research to show how smokers learn from the warnings, generally people with rotting teeth, facial scars and people dying in hospital beds.

“Our outcomes suggest that focusing on enhancing understanding and knowledge from smoking warning labels that convey true consequences of smoking may not only influence motivation directly–both in terms of quitting and prevention of smoking–but may actually drive the emotional experience of the label, which we know is an important predictor of motivation,” said Renee Magnan an assistant professor of psychology.

In the study, smoking and non-smoking people between the ages of 18 and 25 took an online survey asking how much they learned about the dangers of smoking from cigarette warning labels. The labels used in the study emphasized negative consequences of smoking associated with lung cancer, heart disease and stroke, impotence, eye disease, neck, throat and mouth cancers, and vascular disease.

After responding to measures of smoking behavior and background information, participants rated each label on perceived understandability, perceived knowledge gained, the extent to which the label evoked worry, and perceived discouragement from smoking.

Overwhelmingly, participants in both groups reported the combination of images and text as providing significantly better personal understanding and more new knowledge, aroused more worry about the consequences of smoking, and discouraged smoking more than the corresponding text-only label.

Only two of the image-and-text labels evoked results similar to text-only labels: a limp cigarette in hand, meant to convey impotence, and an image of an IV needle in skin, implying prolonged illness.

The results suggest that the more understandable and informative the labels, the more likely people will worry about the consequences of smoking and, ultimately, be discouraged from doing it.

“Although this is a preliminary investigation, from a policy perspective, these outcomes suggest that focusing on deriving greater understanding and knowledge from such labels may have more impact in terms of both motivational and emotional responses,” Magnan said. “Importantly, however, these labels are only a small piece of what should be a larger campaign to educate the public on the dangers of smoking.”