Anti-Smoking Ads Go For Shock Value, But Will They Work?

By 2013, the images above will cover 50% of the surface area on cigarette cartons. The Food and Drug Administration’s new health warning labels — the first redesign in over two decades — are not only aiming to be big; they’re aiming to grab attention with shocking images of the negative health effects of smoking. They’re certainly more attention-grabbing than the smaller, text-only ads that have been printed on cigarette and tobacco packaging for the last 25 years, but will the shocking images really work?

While many people believe that shocking images aren’t a great way to motivate people to take care of their health, the FDA clearly disagrees. The nine new labels, which were chosen out of 36 images originally released last Fall for public review, all feature perturbing visuals of the negative effects of smoking, from a man with a tracheotomy to images of a mother blowing smoke into her baby’s face.

Joanna Cohen, PhD, director of the Institute for Global Tobacco Control at Johns Hopkins University, told Huffington Post why she thinks they’ll work:

What we’ve seen in terms of best practices globally is that you want pictures and accompanying text that elicit an emotion from the viewer. It makes people react.

And some even think the new labels (and their size) is still modest compared to initiatives being proposed in other countries (earlier this month, for example, Australia proposed that logos and colored labels be banished from tobacco packaging and replaced with a simple product label and health warnings).

Do you think the packaging is too extreme? Do you think it will work? Tell us what you think in the comments section, below:

Share This Post:
    • halee

      I believe these images will work to an extent. People unfortunately are still going to smoke regardless if these images are placed on the packages. It’s just like with fast food: Yes i know that burger has 600 calories packed into it and yes i’ve seen the Super Size Me movie and read all the labels warning of the artery clogging fat i’m about to consume but that still hasnt stopped me from eating one. It’s a personal choice and I do hope that some people who are smoking will be persuaded to stop due to the graphic nature of the photos but in the long run it’s not illegal and people have no about the negative effects of smoking for several decades but have still and will still continue to do it.

    • Briana Rognlin

      Yeah, I think you’re probably right, Halee. So many of the things people do that risk their health are things they know risk their health; for the most part, we’re not ignorant, we’re just choosing short-term gratification over long-term health. My biggest hope is that labels like this might deter teenagers who are starting to smoke because they think it’s cool, and don’t fully understand the consequences.

    • woo

      Wow, these are super tame compared to the ones we have in Australia.

      And they have been shown to work here. Of course people know that smoking is killing them, but this way they are confronted with it every time they do it. Kind of like when you overeat after having your stomach stapled you get sick, it’s an instant thing and the two are so closely linked in your mind, it’s like a little reminder when you do something that has become a habit.

      We have seen a massive decrease in the uptake of smoking in Australia since these graphic warnings were introduced. Good on the USA for finally putting them on smokes!