Good Question: Will Graphic Warnings Get Smokers To Quit?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Cigarettes are addictive. Cigarettes cause cancer. Smoking can kill you. In a little more than one year, those are some of the warnings that will appear on cigarette boxes, if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gets its way.

But it’s not the direct wording that’s getting attention: it’s the graphic images that go along with them, taking up half of the real estate on the front and back of cigarette packs and cartons. Some of the nine new warnings show a man smoking through a tracheotomy hole, a mouth with gnarly teeth and a stitched up dead body.

But don’t smokers already know these things? Will new warnings get people to quit?

“I think that they’ve very good. There’s a lot of research that’s gone into it,” said Dr. Harry Lando, a tobacco cessation researcher at the University of Minnesota Cancer Center.

Lando specializes in effective ways to get people to quit smoking.

“Often smokers know in general its bad, they don’t know in detail, they don’t take it personally. This personally affects you and your loved ones,” he said.

Smokers we spoke with were skeptical.

“It’s pretty gruesome looking, but that won’t deter a serious smoker,” said one.

According to the latest Minnesota Tobacco Use Survey, in 2010, just 16 percent of people regularly smoke. That’s down from 22 percent in 1999. The 2010 national average is 20 percent.

“Is there a point where there are so few people smoking, no warning label will matter?” asked WCCO reporter Jason DeRusha.

“That may be possible, but we haven’t gotten there yet,” said Lando.  “We don’t really know the lowest we can go. Is it 12 percent? Is it 5 percent?”

“I don’t think it will (make a difference),” said another smoker. “It’s hard enough to quit. I gave up cigs for a year, then started smoking … black and mild cigars.”

But 40 countries use warning labels with images, many are more gruesome than the nine the FDA just approved. In Brazil they show a gangrened hand, and another warning of impotence caused by smoking.

In Canada, they put in huge warnings in 2000. After one year: 44 percent of smokers said the new warnings increased their motivation to quit. Of those who tried to quit, 38 percent cited the warnings as a factor.

The U.S. government estimates more than 200,000 smokers will kick the habit, in the first year after the new warning labels start showing up on shelves.

Slideshow: FDA Issues New Warning Labels

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