Relevance of health warnings on cigarette packs: a psycholinguistic investigation

Health Commun. 2010 Jul;25(5):397-409. doi: 10.1080/10410236.2010.483334.


Although most research on the effect of tobacco warnings has been focused on attitude changes following the presentation of tobacco warnings, this paper takes a somewhat new perspective by investigating cognitive processing of tobacco warnings by adolescents of different ages (i.e., 14-, 16-, and 18-year-olds). More specifically, this paper investigates the way adolescents encode different textual elements presented in tobacco warnings. By means of a standard psycholinguist paradigm (i.e., sentence evaluation paradigm), we evaluated tobacco warnings differing along three variables: (1) severity, (2) time consequence and (3) target (health vs. others). Our main result demonstrated noticeable differences between the age groups and between smoking experiences in the cognitive processing of tobacco warnings. Our experimental paradigm represents an important step in identifying the mechanisms through which certain types of written warnings are cognitively processed, which in turn may well set a critical base for understanding decision makers' responses to risky behaviors such as smoking and for constructing adequate health warnings.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Cognition*
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Product Packaging / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Psycholinguistics*
  • Smoking / adverse effects*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States
  • Young Adult