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Graphic Warning Labels on Cigarettes Are Scary, but Do They Work?

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Looking at cigarette packaging in some countries, you might think Big Tobacco and AMC have entered into a bizarre cross-promotion for The Walking Dead. You’ll see blood-drenched corpses, facial scars and head wounds, people dying in hospital beds, screaming children, crying women—the list goes on.

These “graphic warning labels” pair gruesome images with warnings about the dangers of smoking, covering anywhere from 30 to 80 percent of cigarette pack “faces” (the front and back). The goals of such labels are informing consumers about the risks of smoking, encouraging quitting among smokers, and preventing others from ever starting.

Research shows people exposed to these labels are understandably repulsed and disgusted. When asked, they express the belief that labels should keep people from smoking. And after viewing them, they have more negative thoughts and feelings about smoking.

But do graphic warning labels actually prevent people from starting to smoke? Do they cause current smokers to quit?

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