Effect of graphic cigarette warnings on smoking intentions in young adults.
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INTRODUCTION: Graphic warnings (GWs) on cigarette packs are widely used internationally and perhaps will be in the US but their impact is not well understood. This study tested support for competing hypotheses in different subgroups of young adults defined by their history of cigarette smoking and individual difference variables (e.g., psychological reactance). One hypothesis predicted adaptive responding (GWs would lower smoking-related intentions) and another predicted defensive responding (GWs would raise smoking-related intentions). METHODS: Participants were an online sample of 1,169 Americans ages 18-24, who were randomly assigned either to view nine GWs designed by the FDA or to a no-label control. Both the intention to smoke in the future and the intention to quit smoking (among smokers) were assessed before and after message exposure. RESULTS: GWs lowered intention to smoke in the future among those with a moderate lifetime smoking history (between 1 and 100 cigarettes), and they increased intention to quit smoking among those with a heavy lifetime smoking history (more than 100 cigarettes). Both effects were limited to individuals who had smoked in some but not all of the prior 30 days (i.e., occasional smokers). No evidence of defensive "boomerang effects" on intention was observed in any subgroup. CONCLUSION: Graphic warnings can reduce interest in smoking among occasional smokers, a finding that supports the adaptive-change hypothesis. GWs that target occasional smokers might be more effective at reducing cigarette smoking in young adults.