Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

March 06, 2000

Larger, emotionally charged warning messages, more graphic images encourage smoking cessation, study finds

A study by a University of Guelph professor concludes that larger, emotion-arousing warning messages on cigarette packages, supported by graphic images, will encourage some smokers to stop smoking and deter non-smokers from taking up the habit.

The study, conducted by Prof. John Liefeld, Department of Consumer Studies, also found that even warning messages that covered 60 per cent of the package surface did not prevent smokers from recognizing their brand in a simulated store display.

Liefeld was commissioned by Health Canada to study the relative impact of the size, message content and pictures of health warnings on cigarette packages on encouraging smokers to quit and deterring non-smokers from staring. The study also assessed the relative impact of larger, stronger warning messages containing pictures on one's thinking about smoking compared to six other types of influence. The study was also designed to assess the impact of larger warning messages on brand/trademark recognition.

As a consequence of Liefeld's study and three others, the Minister of Health recently proposed increasing the size of health warning messages, printing them in color and including a graphic image.

"The relative utility of pictures for encouraging people not to smoke is 60 times stronger compared to no pictures," Liefeld said. "And when the warning message size is larger, the impact is further enhanced."

Liefeld studied a sample of 617 people in Ontario and Quebec. Approximately one-third were teenage smokers and another third were teenaged non-smokers. An estimated 90 per cent of all smokers begin smoking before the age of 20. The remaining participants were adult smokers.

In the study, respondents were shown a number of pairs of cigarette packages with warning messages that were varied with an experimental design in content, size, and inclusion of a graphic image. Participants were asked which package from each pair most encouraged them to stop/start smoking. The message content ranged from emotional statements such as "smoking kills babies" to unemotional statements. The pictures included images of rotting gums and teeth and simple pictures of hazardous product packages.

The respondents also ranked the importance of seven different influences on one's thinking about smoking, before and after seeing the larger, stronger and more graphic warning messages. In the trademark portion of the study, respondents had to find "their brand" in a display of 30 packages on a computer screen simulating at a store counter and looking at cigarette packages on the shelves. On one screen, the package images had warning messages covering 35 per cent of the package surface. On another screen, the warning covered 60 per cent of the package surface.

Liefeld found that the No. 1 deterrent was message content. "The more emotional, the better, and adding pictures with the messages and increasing their size to at least 50 per cent of the package surface greatly increased their impact," Liefeld said. The effects were the same for smokers /non-smokers, teenagers and adults, both in Ontario and Quebec. In the ranking task, the influence of the warning messages on one's thinking about smoking increased greatly after exposure to the larger, strong and more graphic warning messages.

"It can be concluded from these results that the immediate impact of larger, stronger warning messages with pictures on one's thinking about smoking would be strong," he said.

In addition, the study found that for 95 per cent of smokers, there was no difference in the time taken to locate their brand in the display, even when the warning label covered 60 per cent of the package surface. In fact, for 80 per cent of non-smokers there was no time difference in locating the brand "most familiar" to them in the simulation experiment. Thus, tobacco companies' allegations that consumers would not be able to recognize their brand are not supported by this result, Liefeld said.

Contact: Prof. John Liefeld Department of Consumer Studies (519) 824-4120, Ext. 3328

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs, (519) 824-4120, Ext. 3338.

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