smashed cigaretteA picture really is worth a thousand words, according to the results of a new study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, which found that graphic images of the negative effects of smoking were able to convince many hard-to-reach smokers to kick the habit.

Researchers asked smokers to rate health warning labels (HWLs) – both with and without images – for credibility, personal relevance, and perceived effectiveness.

“Ratings of the personal relevance and effectiveness of pictorial labels compared to textual labels were no different for smokers in high- compared to low-health literacy groups,” said lead investigator James F. Thrasher, PhD, of the Department of Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior, Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. “However, smokers with low-health literacy rated pictorial labels as more credible than text-only warnings, whereas no difference was found among smokers with high health literacy.”

Smoker reaction to the specific type of imagery used also varied by study participants’ health literacy and race, with the biggest differences found on HWLs with abstract imagery.

“These results suggest that the FDA should consider implementing warning labels with more graphic imagery in order to maximize the impact of warnings across different populations of adult smokers, including more disadvantaged smokers,” noted Thrasher.