Cartoon cigarette warnings more believable to children than plain text

December 13, 2000

Children rated cartoon cigarette warnings significantly more believable than plain text regardless of the message, and they rated the simple message, "Smoking Kills", as less believable than a more specific message, according to an article in the December issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, a member of the JAMA family of journals. Sonia A. Duffy, Ph.D., R.N., from the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System, Michigan, and Dee Burton, Ph.D., from the University of Illinois at Chicago, surveyed 580 children and adolescents in Chicago public schools (grades K-12) in 1995 to determine the believability and importance of cartoon tobacco warnings modeled after Joe Camel, the Camel cigarette advertising mascot.

The cartoon warnings were developed with either the complex message "Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, Heart Disease, Emphysema, and May Complicate Pregnancy" or the simple message "Smoking Kills", or the same two messages without cartoons. "The finding that cartoon tobacco warning labels are more believable than plain warning labels suggests that it may be desirable to include cartoons such as the walrus and penguin used in this study in future tobacco warning labels," the researchers suggest. "The lower rating of the 'Smoking Kills' warning is a concern, because this warning and other similar warnings have recently been implemented in other countries and the 'Smoking Can Kill You' warning is one of eight rotating tobacco warnings that may be implemented in the United States. If health care policies regarding tobacco warning labels are to be changed, careful market research needs to be conducted to ensure that the new labels are effective in reaching children and adolescents."

According to background information cited in the study, children who start smoking at a young age are at increased risk of becoming regular smokers, heavy smokers, as well as being ill or dying from smoking related illnesses.

A previous study reported that the youngest group of the groups studied, the 12- to 13-year-olds, had the greatest recognition of the Joe Camel advertising campaign. The authors note that children and adolescents tend to smoke the three most advertised brands, Marlboro, Camel and Newport. And conversely, the older the smoker, the less likely the purchase of heavily advertised cigarette brands. (Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2000;154:1230-1236)
Editor's Note: To contact Sonia A. Duffy, Ph.D., R.N., call Kim Beyers at 734/761-7824. This dissertation project was in part supported by the National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, Md., and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Princeton, N.J.

This release is reproduced verbatim and with permission from the American Medical Association as a service to reporters interested in health and behavioral change. For more information about Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine or to obtain a copy of the study, please contact the American Medical Association's Science News Department at (312) 464-5374.

Posted by the Center for the Advancement of Health. For more research news and information, go to our special section devoted to health and behavior in the "Peer-Reviewed Journals" area of Eurekalert!, For information about the Center, call Petrina Chong,, (202) 387-2829.

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