UConn Researcher Advising FDA on Cigarette Warning Labels

By: Beth Krane, CHIP

UConn communication professor Leslie Snyder, director of the Center for Health Communication and Marketing at CHIP, is conducting research to assess the potential impact of controversial new graphic warning labels for cigarette packages and to suggest directions for future national anti-tobacco campaigns. The research is funded by a grant of nearly $1 million from the National Cancer Institute.

New labels, which were to cover 50 percent of cigarette packs, are a requirement of the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which also gave the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority to regulate tobacco products for the first time. The new graphic warning labels were supposed to be on boxes starting September 2012, but legal challenges by tobacco companies caused the FDA to withdraw the first proposed set of labels. In the future, it is likely that the FDA will propose a new set of labels – taking into account research by Snyder’s team and others.

The nine images initially selected by the FDA include a healthy and smoke-blackened lung side by side, a man smoking through a tracheotomy hole in his neck, and a staged photo of a corpse on a coroner’s table.

FDA officials called these graphic warnings “the most significant change to health warnings in 25 years.”

Snyder’s research team created sample cigarette boxes with the proposed FDA warning labels to show study participants.

Snyder, a CHIP principal investigator whose health communication and marketing center is a CDC-established Center of Excellence, specifically studied the impact of the graphic warning labels in two high-risk populations: youth and pregnant women.

The work involved teenagers ages 13 to 18 recruited from two Hartford high schools with predominantly African American and Puerto Rican populations, and from two other areas of the country (Nashville and Milwaukee) with relatively high teen smoking rates. Young adults 18 to 24 years old also were studied using Internet-based surveys.

The pregnant women from various target populations (urban and rural African Americans, urban Puerto Ricans, Native Americans, Native Hawaiians, rural whites, and non-rural whites) were recruited from locations across the country.

To understand how people react to the graphic warning labels, Snyder used experimental and control groups, with only some individuals in the target populations being shown the nine proposed labels. Snyder and her colleagues anticipated that different images would prove more effective with different target populations.

In addition to studying reactions to the images, Snyder’s team conducted surveys, focus groups, and interviews to elicit and test additional targeted messages to reduce smoking initiation and promote quitting among smokers. The research is being used to inform a new youth tobacco prevention program the FDA plans to launch next fall or winter. Snyder and her team have been sharing their preliminary findings with the FDA and with the contractors hired to run the youth campaigns.

Read more at UConn Today.

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