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New Study by Dr. Jim Thrasher Suggests Graphic Images May Discourage Some from Smoking

Cigarette packs with graphic warnings that illustrate the consequences of smoking are likely to reduce smoking, according to a study by Dr. Jim Thrasher, a University of South Carolina public health professor and member of USC’s Science and Health Communication Research Group.

Thrasher, an assistant professor in the Arnold School of Public Health’s Department of Health Promotion, Education and Behavior, found that the more graphic the warning images are, the more they deter smokers. His study was recently published in Health Policy, and Columbia’s WACH Fox 47 also picked up the story; click here to view the video and article.

“Tobacco use continues to be the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, and graphic health warnings are among the most cost-effective interventions that exist,” said Thrasher.

A U.S. federal judge has accepted as valid the tobacco industry argument that it is unconstitutional to make them print graphic warning labels on tobacco products, including images of diseased lungs and a mother holding her baby with smoke swirling around them. The case is likely to be decided this spring.

“If federal judges rule in favor of the tobacco industry, then the United States will set a dangerous precedent of placing greater value on deadly commercial speech than on public health. Meanwhile, 39 other countries have put similar pictures on their cigarette packs and their citizens are now better informed about the different types and seriousness of dangers from smoking.” said Thrasher.

The proposed labels have nine different images with phrases like “Smoking can kill you" and "Cigarettes cause cancer” as well as a national toll-free number for getting advice on how to quit. If the new warnings are implemented, this would be the first change to cigarette package warnings in the U.S. in 27 years.

“Pictures that show bodily harm and depict human suffering from smoking seem to work well across different cultural groups around the world, and our research suggests that they may work best among populations with low education, where smoking rates are the highest.” Thrasher said.

Tobacco use is responsible for about 443,000 deaths in the U.S. each year.

 
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