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Increasing Awareness of Smoking Risks with Graphic Warnings

Institution: University of California, San Diego
Investigator(s): Matthew Stone, B.A.
Award Cycle: 2019 (Cycle 28) Grant #: 28DT-0005 Award: $103,350
Subject Area: Tobacco-Use Prevention and Cessation
Award Type: Dissertation Awards

Initial Award Abstract

In 2009, the FDA required that Graphic Warning Labels (GWLs) be placed on cigarette packaging, but the effort was ruled unconstitutional and blocked in 2013. The court cited that labels were not designed to “…increase consumer awareness of smoking risks; rather, they were crafted to evoke a strong emotional response calculated to provoke the viewer to quit…” Yet, GWLs are unlikely to bypass thoughts and encourage quitting, as they are effective in raising awareness of smoking risks because of the emotional response. Research has shown that the emotional response to GWLs plays an important role getting smokers to think about quitting. What is unclear is whether an emotional response form GWLs leads to thoughts of quitting by raising concerns about one’s health, reducing product appeal, or both. It is also unknown if the emotional response to the GWLs decreases over time leaving smokers less sensitive to the imagery. The strong negative emotions associated with GWLs may stir a basic process that is important in informed decision-making. This process may increase receptivity to health information by engaging emotions that signal the importance of attending to the message.

We aim to study whether emotional reactions to GWLs increase thoughts about quitting, by using data from an ongoing study assessing the effect of GWLs on smoker’s thoughts and behaviors. We propose to add new face reading software that recognizes emotional states to an existing set of sensors to view smokers initial reactions to GWLs. Afterwards, smokers are assigned to purchase packs from one of three groups: standard pack with marketing materials intact, plain pack with marketing materials removed, and plain pack with a large GWL. Current study aims include: 1) To measure emotional responses to GWLs using facial response, physical handling of packs, and positive and negative word choice when discussing the packs. 2) To test whether heightened emotional responses to GWLs predicts increases in health concerns, reductions in smoking appeal and increases in quit intentions over a three-month period. 3) To examine whether initial heightened emotional response to GWLs increases price smokers would pay for the same packs, and to then study if this effect softens over a three-month period. This proposal informs research priority 8 by evaluating optimum methods to counter tobacco industry marketing.