A University of Illinois study shows that graphic images on cigarette packages may not be effective in encouraging smokers to quit.

Images of disease and suffering should move smokers to kick the habit — at least, that’s the thinking behind graphic warning labels used on cigarette packages in much of the world, and maybe someday in the US.

According to a University of Illinois study, however, “the good intentions of this tobacco control measure may be for naught.”

The reason: Those graphic images are perceived by many as a threat to their freedom, choice or autonomy, and they respond accordingly.

“What we found is that most people don’t like these warning labels, whether they are smokers or nonsmokers,” said Nicole LaVoie, a doctoral student in communication and the lead author of the study, published online by the journal Communication Research and scheduled for a future print issue.

“It makes them angry, it makes them express negative thoughts about the packaging, that they’re being manipulated,” LaVoie said. “Ultimately, it also makes them think that the source — the government in this case, mandating these labels — is being overly domineering, is being too much in their business.”

Photo Credit: L. Brian Stauffer

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