Given that previous studies demonstrated that smoking-related cues (like cigarette packages) grab the attention of smokers and thereby contribute to craving and tobacco seeking we investigated how pictorial health warnings presented on cigarette packages affect attention allocation towards cigarette packages. The WHO advises the use of pictorial health warnings on cigarette packages. However, at present no experimental studies are available investigating if pictorial warnings modulate incentive properties of cigarette packages. Fifty-nine tobacco smokers and 55 non-smokers performed a visual dot probe task to assess attention allocation towards cigarette packages with and without health warnings. Smokers were divided a priori in a group of light smokers (<20 cigarettes/day; n=39) and heavy smokers (≥20 cigarettes/day; n=20). Psychometric measures on anxiety and nicotine craving were administered. Light smokers showed an attentional bias towards packages without pictorial warnings while no effects were observed in the other groups. In heavy smokers attention allocation towards pictorial health warnings was associated with an increase of craving and anxiety. The results have a potential public health perspective as pictorial health warnings might be an effective strategy to reduce attentional bias towards cigarette packages of light smokers, while counterproductive effects in heavy smokers warrant further investigation.
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