Introduction: Population-level communication interventions, such as graphic warning labels (GWLs) on cigarette packs, have the potential to reduce or exacerbate tobacco-related health disparities depending on their effectiveness among disadvantaged sub-populations. This study evaluated the likely impact of nine GWLs proposed by the US Food and Drug Administration on (1) African American and (2) Hispanic smokers, who disproportionately bear the burden of tobacco-related illness, and (3) low education smokers, who have higher smoking rates.
Methods: Data were collected online from current smokers randomly assigned to see GWLs (treatment) or the current text-only warning labels (control). Participants were stratified by age (18-25; 26+) in each of four groups: general population (n = 1246), African Americans (n = 1200), Hispanics (n = 1200), and low education (n = 1790). We tested the effectiveness of GWLs compared to text-only warning labels using eight outcomes that are predictive of quitting intentions or behaviors including negative emotion, intentions to hold back from smoking, intentions to engage in avoidance behaviors, and intentions to quit.
Results: Across all outcomes, GWLs were significantly more effective than text-only warning labels more often than expected by chance. Results suggested that African Americans, Hispanics and smokers with low education did not differ from the general population of smokers in their reactions to any of the nine individual GWLs.
Conclusions: The nine GWLs were similarly effective for disadvantaged sub-populations and the general population of smokers. Implementation of GWLs is therefore unlikely to reduce or exacerbate existing tobacco-related health disparities, but will most likely uniformly increase intentions and behaviors predictive of smoking cessation.
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