It’s easy to forget how powerful a picture can be.
This week a study revealed that tobacco firms forked out hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of dollars in the first half of the 20th century, to persuade Hollywood icons to smoke on screen.
It’s a timely reminder that the steady drip-drip repetition of positive smoking images can be a powerful force in encouraging people to smoke. Powerful enough make it worth paying actors like Gary Cooper, Clark Gable and Joan Crawford the equivalent of six-figure sums.
But it works both ways. Because last week also saw the publication of a paper in Addiction, suggesting that graphic images on cigarette packages can increase teenagers’ desire to quit.
The study surveyed 2,400 students from secondary schools in Melbourne, Australia, both before and after graphic health warnings began to appear on cigarette packets.
The study found that these images made more students pay attention to cigarette packs and the warning labels they were wrapped in.
Students were also more likely to be thinking or talking about the warnings – with the result that a higher number of both ‘experimental’ and ‘established’ smokers were intending to quit.
Clearly, what we see has a huge effect on how we think about smoking.
All of this, then, is great news for a new initiative being launched by the Department of Health this week. As of Wednesday, UK smokers will be the first in Europe to see graphic images on their cigarette packets, such as the one on the right.
Such images have already been successfully introduced in countries like Australia and Canada.
According to the DoH the pictures will replace the written warnings currently featured on packs, which were introduced in January 2003.
Written warnings have been a huge success, according to DoH figures. Since their introduction 5 years ago, more than 90,000 smokers have been motivated by the warnings to call the NHS Smoking Helpline (0800 169 0 169).
The images will doubtless come under fire for being shocking and provocative – but if they were anything less, they’d not be worth having.
You can see more of the DoH images on their website. Or coming soon to a cigarette packet near you, from Wednesday.