Pictorial health warnings on cigarette packs in the United States: an experimental evaluation of the proposed FDA warnings

Nicotine Tob Res. 2013 Jan;15(1):93-102. doi: 10.1093/ntr/nts094. Epub 2012 Apr 13.


Introduction: In 2010, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) developed 36 proposed health warnings for cigarette packages, from which 9 were subsequently selected for implementation. The current study aimed to evaluate the perceived efficacy of the 36 proposed FDA warnings.

Methods: Web-based surveys were conducted with 783 adult smokers and 510 youth in United States. Participants were randomized to view and rate two sets of 6-7 warnings, each set corresponding to one of nine health effect statements required under the Tobacco Control Act. Warnings included all 36 FDA-proposed warnings and additional warnings for comparison.

Results: Youth and adults rated individual warnings similarly; in all cases where differences were found, youth perceived warnings as more effective. Comparisons on specific elements indicated that warnings were perceived as more effective if they were: full color (vs. black and white), featured real people (vs. comic book style), contained graphic images (vs. nongraphic), and included a telephone "quitline" number or personal information. Few sociodemographic differences were observed in overall perceived effectiveness: younger respondents, non-White respondents, and smokers intending to quit rated warnings higher.

Conclusions: Seven of the nine health warnings selected by the FDA for implementation were among the proposed warnings rated as most effective in the current study. However, the warning(s) added for comparison were rated higher than the FDA-selected warning for five of the nine sets, suggesting some warnings could be improved for greater impact. The findings support the inclusion of a telephone "quitline" number and reinforce the importance of depicting "real" people and health effects.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Data Collection
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Internet
  • Lung Neoplasms / etiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Product Labeling / methods*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Tobacco Products
  • United States
  • United States Food and Drug Administration