FDA cigarette labels test public’s fears

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is using a classic example of  “fear appeal” to change the behavior of smokers.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration photo

Fear appeals use threats of highlight the negative consequences of not heeding the warning to change attitude and/or behavior. Remember the “Brain on Drugs” campaign back in the ’90s, where a fried egg represented the damaging effects of drugs on teenagers’ brains?

Or maybe you remember this “Don’t Drink and Drive” fear appeal:

Now the government is rolling out new and more graphic warning labels on cigarette packs that aim to show the dangers of smoking through images such as a diseased lung, a smoker wearing an oxygen mask and an emaciated cancer patient. You can view them on the FDA site.

According to USA Today, the new labels represent the most sweeping anti-tobacco effort since the surgeon general’s warning became mandatory on cigarette packaging in 1965. In addition to the grisly images, cigarette marketers also will be required to place 1-800-QUIT-NOW numbers on new packaging, the newspaper said.

“The goal: Slash consumption among the nation’s 43 million smokers and prevent millions more, especially teens, from ever starting.”

But will this particular fear appeal work?

Fear appeals are advertising messages that attempt to create anxiety in the targeted audiences to adopt a recommended response to the threat. Such fear-based advertisements are widely used in health-related communication situations such as health promotional campaigns and social marketing advertising.  The American Cancer Society’s “My Sister Accidentally Killed Herself” ad is one example.

While ads using fear appeal can be effective, as previous campaigns have shown, inappropriate use could also cause consumers to refuse to give their attention to and turn away from such advertisements when they feel intimidated, or even irritated.

Not surprisingly, tobacco companies oppose the new labels. It’s interesting that opposition also is coming from the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) and the American Advertising Federation (AAF) who are concerned it could “set a very dangerous precedent for all other marketers – that the government can tell companies what they must say and portray in their advertising,” according to the ANA.

What do you think – will these labels influence your decision to smoke? Do the advertising groups have a good point, or do you think their opposition stems from something else?

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One Comment on “FDA cigarette labels test public’s fears”

  1. kimlykins says:

    What’s next? A photo of an obese person on a bags of potato chips??


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