Cigarette packs are about to get a lot more gruesome-looking, with new graphic labelling in Canada taking effect today.
But research isn't conclusive about how effective those horror pictures are in actually get smokers to butt out. In fact, one study published in 2009 suggested that they may even be counterproductive, which is pretty astonishing given how grotesque a blackened, diseased lung actually looks.
The study, though relatively small in scale, suggested that the threat of death heightened anxiety, prompting, essentially, the need for a smoke to calm the nerves. At the time, researchers proposed that a more effective strategy would be to make smoking appear less cool, a campaign that Mad Men has certainly not helped in any way. Other research has found that cash rewards or motivational messages (as opposed to Grim Reaper warnings) may also be more effective in getting people to quit.
At the same time, it's hard to argue against forcing cigarette companies to ratchet up the warning labels. And new research shows that compared with text a graphic picture certainly sticks in the mind. In a study of 200 smokers, 83 per cent were able to accurately recount the health warning in a graphic picture, versus 50 per cent in a text-only version. (However, researches couldn't say whether this led them to quit.)
But here's one compelling approach that also appears effective: a guilt trip from a cute kid. In a social experiment in Thailand, documented in a compelling commercial called "Smoking Kid," young children walk up to smokers while holding a cigarette and ask, "Do you have a light?" In every case, the adult smoker refuses to help the child smoke and, in many cases, goes on to firmly lecture them in detail about the health risks of smoking.
"If you smoke, you die faster. Don't you want to live and play?" one young man tells the child.
The kids then turn the tables: "So why are you smoking," a little girl asks one woman.
At the end of the conversation, the child hands out a brochure with a helpline number on it. The commercial, produced by the Thai Health Promotion Foundation, notes that calls to the helpline increased by 40 per cent after the experiment. It also states that after the child walked away, most of the adult smokers threw away their cigarette – but not one threw away the brochure.
What approach do you think would work best on you?