Cigarette package health warnings can be an important and low-cost means of communicating the health risks of smoking. We examined whether viewing health warnings in an experimental study influenced beliefs about the health effects of smoking, by conducting surveys with ~500 adult male smokers and ~500 male and female youth (age 16-18) in Beijing, China (n = 1070), Mumbai area, India (n = 1012), Dhaka, Bangladesh (n = 1018), and Republic of Korea (n = 1362). Each respondent was randomly assigned to view and rate pictorial health warnings for 2 of 15 different health effects, after which they reported beliefs about whether smoking caused 12 health effects. Respondents who viewed relevant health warnings (vs. other warnings) were significantly more likely to believe that smoking caused that particular health effect, for several health effects in each sample. Approximately three-quarters of respondents in China (Beijing), Bangladesh (Dhaka), and Korea (which had general, text-only warnings) thought that cigarette packages should display more health information, compared to approximately half of respondents in the Mumbai area, India (which had detailed pictorial warnings). Pictorial health warnings that convey the risk of specific health effects from smoking can increase beliefs and knowledge about the health consequences of smoking, particularly for health effects that are lesser-known.
Keywords: adolescent; global health; health beliefs; health knowledge; smoking; tobacco use; warning labels.