Do anti-smoking labels encourage smoking?
The government has been insisting on louder warnings for smokers. But strangely they ignore the warning and smoke more. Here’s why
Everyone knows that smoking kills. Smoking causes fatal lung cancer, causes emphysema, leads to birth defects if pregnant mothers smoke a lot. This is why cigarette packs contain statutory warning. The warnings have gone bigger and bolder over the years. According to a notification issued by Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on 15 October 2014, the specified health warning should cover at least 85% of the principal display area of the package. Out of the 85% area, 60% should cover pictorial health warning and rest 25% should have textual health warning. It needs to be on the top edge of the package. For box, carton and pouches, the specified warning must appear on both sides of the package. In addition, the specified health warning on tobacco products are required to be rotated every 24 months. Even during the 24 months, there should be two different images, replaced every 12 months.
But are such loud statutory warnings working? Sales of cigarettes have hardly slowed down in India.
The same is story all over the world. European cigarette makers place their warning in coal-black, Magic Marker-thick frames, making them impossible miss. In Canada, Thailand, Australia and Brazil, the warnings are gorily, forensically true-to-life, showing full-colour images of lung tumours, gangrenous feet and toes, and the open sores and disintegrating teeth that accompany mouth and throat cancers.
These graphic images are designed to make people stop smoking. They have not. Despite tobacco advertising bans, banning of smoking in public places and health warning from the medical community, and massive government investment in antismoking campaigns, global consumers continue to smoke more than 15 billion cigarettes every day – that’s 10 million cigarettes sold every minute, a figure which doesn't include duty-free cigarettes, or the huge international black market trade.
Why are smokers blind to warning labels? We can know only if we can enter the smokers’ mind and see how they react to the warnings on the label and other places. Marketing expert Martin Lindstrom tried to find out exactly that by using fMRI technology on 2081 volunteers from America, England Germany, Japan, and China, who were put through a brain scanner. What he found was startling. Here is what the fMRI study noticed about Marlene, one of the volunteers, a story that Lindstrom narrates in his book Buyology.
“Marlene was in the scanner for a little over an hour. A small reflective apparatus resembling a car's rear-view mirror projected a series of cigarette warning labels from various angles, one after another, on a nearby screen. Asked to rate her desire to smoke during the slide show, Marlene signalled her responses by pressing down on what's known as a button box-a small black console resembling a hand-sized accordion-as each image flashed by. We continued to perform brain scans on new subjects over the next month and a half.
Five weeks later, the team leader, Dr Calvert, presented me with the result. I was, to put it, mildly, startled. Even Dr Calcert was taken back by the findings: warning labels on the sides, front and back of cigarette pack had no effect on suppressing the smokers' craving at all. Zero. In other words, all those gruesome photographs, government regulations, billions of dollars some 123 countries had invested in non-smoking campaigns, all amounted, at the end of a day, to, day a big waste of money.
“Are you Sure?” I kept saying.
“Pretty Damn certain”. She replied, adding that thee statistical validity was as could be.
But this wasn't half as amazing as what Dr Calvert discovered once she analysed the result further. Cigarette warning, whether they informed smokers they were at risk of contracting emphysema, heart disease, or a host of other chronic condition-had in fact stimulated an area of the smokers' brains called the nucleus accumbens, otherwise known as “the craving spot.” This region is a chain-link of specialized neurons that lights up when the body desires something-whether it's alcohol, drugs, tobacco, sex, or gambling. When stimulated, the nucleus accumbens requires higher and higher doses to get its fix.
In short, the fMRI result showed that cigarette warning labels not only failed to deter smoking, but by activating the nucleus accumbens, it appeared they actually encouraged smokers to light up. We could not help but conclude that those same cigarette warning labels intended to curb smoking, reduce cancer, and save lives had instead become a killer marketing tool for the tobacco industry.
If you ask the smokers about the warning labels they would say, as Marlene did, that they believed the warning were right and it made them smoke less. Maybe because they thought it was the right answer, or what the researchers wanted to hear, or may be because they felt guilty about what they knew smoking was doing to their health. But as Dr Calvert concluded later, it wasn't that our volunteers felt ashamed about what smoking was doing to their bodies; they felt guilty that the labels stimulated their brains' craving areas. It was just that their conscious minds could not tell the difference. Marlene’s brain, the ultimate no bullshit zone-had adamantly contradicted her. Just as our brains do to each one of us every single day.
As government around the world make warning labels bigger and gorier and louder, they may ponder over this enormous wasted effort. There must be ways to wean people away from smoking but the way we are going about it, would achieve little.
Dayananda Kamath k
9 years ago
how does the size of warning matter i do not understand may be one more way to give revenue to printers and designers. tobacco too has medicinal value and total banning will create more opportunity for corruption. in all matters people are talking of individual freedom to do what they like why not tobacco also. everybody knows its effect still do it because there is no social stigma for that.
9 years ago

Attention may be drawn to-
"Modi steps in, pro-tobacco MPs may be axed from panel" - TOI

I. As commented (@Facebook)
Any measure aimed at good health of ‘netas’ (supposed to lead) as the starting point has to be endorsed uniformly by anyone who is fully conscious of, - ‘smoking is harmful/injurious’ to not only smokers but also the surrounding environment too. Hoping on hopes that all such reforms, -not barring insistence on MPs to be ‘pro-active’ in their vested role, and in attending to commoners’ grouses galore ,- if strictly implemented and followed up, the long wished/clamoured for the day of ‘redemption’ and the inevitable transformation of the nation as proclaimed may not be far off.
A good step, even if it be a baby step; and more, good place of start., aimed at the ideal of 'reformism' and the long wished for eventual transformation of the nation '.
II. < “Finance minister Arun Jaitley made it clear that the central government's decision on increasing the size of health warnings on tobacco products would not be based on opinions of individuals.”
Another BJP MP defends tobacco, says 'no proof smoking causes cancer'

FM speak:
Asserting that a "multi-pronged" approach to discourage tobacco use was needed, Jaitley said, "Individuals can give individual opinions, but the government takes a measured and responsible decisions.

"Therefore in the last two months and in my two budgets, I have certainly reflected what the collective thinking of the government is." >
To add:
If were to be viewed in a different but perspective, one honestly feels, - any decision of government , in order to ultimately measure up to and prove a responsible one, must necessarily have the ‘common good’ in focus.

On the collective thinking of the government he refers to, what he seems to have in mind is the hike in ‘excise duty’ brought in almost annually as a ritual. If so, he has betrayed the known weakness of the men in governance from time to time, in that any failure in implementing any principle or rule based requirement would be met and more than compensated so long as more monies are collected and goes to augment its Treasury. That, to say the least, is patently poor logic and lopsided philosophy of ‘life’. Another like instance that immediately comes to one’s mind is the 15% levy on ‘works contract’ (i.e. house building) because of inability to force builder to comply with the requirements of law, two of which are so called ‘ completion certificate’ and timely and proper ‘completion’.
Jayaram M
9 years ago
There was no pictorial for Walter Raleigh.
In India, public health is absymal & the problem is more from chewing tobacco, 90 %; rather than the smoking kind.
The state of education, which could be more effective, in curbing smoking: is perhaps no better ! Add poverty; where tobacco to a certain extent keeps one to that one meal a day. One cannot really compare studies made in developed countries to the ground situation in India. Awareness; not succumbing to peer pressure; education and perhaps the picture on the pack. Lighting a candle is still a better alternative than cursing the darkness.
Abhijit Gosavi
9 years ago
The U.S. seems to be the only country where smoking rates have declined over the years. That hasn't happened because of any advertisements, but because it is virtually impossible to smoke anywhere. Smoking is not permitted virtually everywhere, e.g., restaurants, bars, hotels, malls, grocery stores, buses, airports, and metros. The only places where people can smoke are their own houses and cars. Other factors that have helped in reducing smoking include their remarkably high prices and the e-cig.

The smoking habit is often acquired during school and college. Campaigns in schools have not helped, but because cigarettes are prohibitively expensive, children and college kids can't buy them easily. Also, selling cigarettes to children below a certain age is banned by law. And yet about 16% of high school kids smoke, which is tragic. Unsurprisingly, mothers seem to have the greatest influence on the smoking habits of their children.
Abhijit Gosavi
9 years ago
The U.S. seems to be the only country where smoking rates have fallen over the years. That hasn't happened because of the ads, but because it is virtually impossible to smoke anywhere. Restaurants, bars, hotels, malls, grocery stores, buses, metros, and every place you can think of doesn't allow smoking. The only place where people can smoke is in their own houses and cars. Other factors that have helped reduce smoking include their remarkably high prices and the e-cig.

The smoking habit is often acquired in the young years. Campaigns in schools have not helped, but the fact that cigarettes are prohibitively expensive prevents children and college kids from buying them. Further, selling cigarettes to children below a certain age is banned. Still about 16% of high school kids smoke, which is a pity. Not surprisingly, mothers seem to have the greatest influence on the smoking habit.
R Balakrishnan
9 years ago
If any govt is serious about the impact of smoking on public health and finances, the only way out is to ban production and sale of all tobacco products. Simply having photos and warnings will not help. It is like keeping the cat to guard the milk. Govt sees the tobacco industry as a cash cow So no govt is actually moving forward to put a halt.
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