Shock Images To Stop Smokers

New images for cigarette packs mandated by FDA

The US Food and Drug Administration have just released images which are to be placed on all cigarette packaging. Images have an impact, but are these shock tactics smart enough to persuade?


The US was the first country to require health warnings on cigarettes and in 2012 are set to magnify the health issues for smokers with a series of graphic images. They have just released a series of photos that cigarette brands will be required to put on cigarette packs.


The US Food and Drug Administration have provided strict design guidelines around the placement of the image which needs to appear on the top 50 per cent of the packs, front and back. And in ads they need to occupy at least 20 percent of the top portion of the ad.


But the US aren’t the first to think that images are a more persuasive tool than words when it comes to changing behaviour for health reasons. In New Zealand, cigarette packs carry images that, while no doubt real and medically sound, resemble the bodily carnage one might see in a 70s zombie movie, including rotting mouths and gangrenous feet. The image below is the least shocking.



While there is no question about how useful photography is as a health education tool, there is a question about what kinds of photographs are effective. It’s part of a wider debate around imagery,  in the charity sector for example some research suggests people are less persuaded by shock pictures. The New York Times reported that while studies suggest images are better at getting the attention of adolescents, stopping them taking up smoking, there is also evidence that more gruesome images are dismissed more quickly by older smokers. In Canada, health bodies recently backed off from using more shocking warnings. It’s not dissimilar to debates in photojournalism about the impact of certain kinds of brutal war photography – the public can become inured to the continuous flow of graphic imagery.



Dr. Lawrence R. Deyton, director of the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Tobacco Products told the Times. “Sometimes images that are not as graphic may be more powerful in terms of changing behaviors.” As much as government has conducted research, this debate could really do with the benefit of the thoughts of  professionals who work with images like designers, art directors, photo editors  and art buyers. Is this going to work? Do we need a more sophisticated approach? What do you think?



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