Do cigarette warnings warn? Understanding what it will take to develop more effective warnings

J Health Commun. 1999 Apr-Jun;4(2):95-104. doi: 10.1080/108107399126986.


Warnings in cigarette advertisements have been the principal method mandated by the federal government to educate consumers about the risks of smoking. Warnings have been required in all cigarette ads for 30 years and have remained largely unchanged during this time. The current warning program was neither developed nor implemented with specific communication goals in mind. Instead, it was negotiated by the government and tobacco industry representatives. The warning program has served the tobacco industry well by providing it with a key argument in tobacco litigation: "We warned you." It has, however, failed as a public health strategy, since much research has shown that the current warnings are ineffective communication devices. If Congress is to be effective in its efforts to educate consumers about the risks of smoking, it needs to rethink the warning strategy while making use of knowledge regarding how warnings work. The paper draws from current studies in order to develop realistic cigarette warning objectives and points out the considerations necessary to create such warnings. To be effective, warnings must be developed, targeted, tested, and revised over time.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Health Education / standards*
  • Humans
  • Nicotiana
  • Persuasive Communication*
  • Plants, Toxic
  • Politics
  • Smoking / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Smoking Prevention*