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Study: Graphic Health Warnings On Tobacco More Powerful Than Text

ATLANTA (CBS ATLANTA) -- Graphic photos of health consequences on tobacco products are more effective than text warnings in deterring smokers from continuing the habit.

According to a new study of 3,300 smokers published in the PLos One medical journal, graphic images depicting the health consequences of smoking were more credible, had a greater impact and strengthened smokers' intention to quit than text-only warnings.

Images put directly onto the products include bleeding and blackened gums and teeth, large tumors and people plugged into respirators for oxygen.

"The findings suggest that pictorial warning labels are one of the few tobacco-control policies that can have an effect on all these groups," Jennifer Cantrell, assistant director for research and evaluation at Legacy, a national public health foundation devoted to reducing tobacco use in the United States, told US News and Health.

The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Act of 2009 required color photos and text warnings that cover half of the front and back of each pack of cigarettes sold in the United States.

The law was set to take effect in 2012, but tobacco companies successfully argued to an appeals court that the law violates their First Amendment rights and won a temporary injunction to stop new FDA warning labels from appearing on cigarette packs. The case will likely eventually make its way to the Supreme Court.

The study – funded by Legacy and conducted by Harvard's School of Public Health – also found that low-income and minority communities could most benefit from the image warnings.

"Given that minority and poor Americans have disproportionately high rates of tobacco-related disease, "mandating strong pictorial warnings is an effective and efficient way to communicate the risk of tobacco use," study senior author Vish Viswanath, associate professor of society, human development and health at the Harvard School of Public Health, said in the press release.

"Tobacco use is a social justice issue," Donna Vallone, senior vice president for research and evaluation at Legacy, said in a press release. "Given that low-income and minority communities have higher smoking rates and suffer disproportionately from tobacco's health consequences, studies like this show us that graphic warning labels can help us reach these subgroups in a more effective way, ultimately saving more lives."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death. In the United States, the CDC reports that smoking is responsible for about one in five deaths annually.

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