Government & Politics, Healthcare

Do Cigarette Warning Labels Increase Cigarette Sales?


Standard warnings such as “Cigarette Smoke Contains Carbon Monoxide” are placed on all cigarette packages in the United States. The information is pretty straightforward and hard to argue with.

Nonetheless, more than 45 million Americans are smokers. And according to the American Lung Association, about 438,000 Americans are affected by smoking-related diseases each year. The health care costs in the United States due to smoking-related diseases are over $167 billion a year and even President Obama still sneaks in a cigarette now and then (but he’s trying to quit).

If our country still has so many smokers and so many people getting seriously ill from smoking, you have to question just how effective the warning labels on cigarette packages really are. Do they even work at all? Could they actually be making things worse? What could be done to make them more effective?

A Brief History of Cigarette Warning Labels in America

The Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act of 1965 (Public Law 89-92) was enacted to require tobacco manufacturers to place warning labels on their cigarette packages. The required warning at the time was “Caution: Cigarette Smoking May Be Hazardous to Your Health”. It was placed in small print along the sides of the package.

In 1967, that warning was changed to “Warning: Cigarette Smoking Is Dangerous to Health and May Cause Death from Cancer and Other Diseases.” But two years after that, Congress passed the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act. This prohibited TV and radio advertisements for cigarettes, and the warning label was changed yet again to say “Warning: The Surgeon General Has Determined That Cigarette Smoking Is Dangerous to Your Health.”

Over time, these warning labels have continuously been updated to reflect new scientific data and to hopefully make them more effective.

The (In)Effectiveness of Cigarette Warning Labels

So, when a smoker sees a health warning label on a cigarette package, what happens? Does the smoker pause and think twice about lighting up? Does he or she suddenly have an epiphany that smoking could lead to death? Or does the smoker ignore the label altogether?

According to an expansive brain-scanning study detailed in Buyology, the answer is none of the above. Not only do cigarette warning labels not work, but it turns out they actually make smokers want cigarettes even more.

“Cigarette warnings—whether they informed smokers they were at risk of contracting emphysema, heart disease, or a host of other chronic conditions—had in fact stimulated an area of the smokers’ brains called the nucleus accumbens, otherwise known as “the craving spot.” This region is a chain-link of specialized neurons that lights up when the body wants something…When stimulated, the nucleus accumbens requires higher and higher doses to get its fix.”

Billions of Dollars Wasted on Anti-Smoking Campaigns?

In 1998, all 50 states reached settlements with the major tobacco firms to recover $246 billion over the first 25 years in smoking-related medical costs. While the settlement doesn’t dictate how the states must spend this settlement money, most state leaders promised at the time to dedicate the majority of it to smoking cessations and prevention campaigns. As of January 2009, they’ve spent about $6.5 billion on these campaigns.

That’s billions of dollars being spent to get Americans to stop smoking. But are these campaigns even working? More than 45 million Americans, including the President, continue to smoke. Sure, the number of smokers has slightly trended downward over the past decade, but you have to wonder if there are more effective tactics that can be utilized to get people to finally stop smoking.

Introducing…Harsher Warning Labels!

For a long time now, the United States has actually had some of the tamest warning labels on cigarette packages. In other countries, cigarette packages may feature pictures of rotting teeth, black lungs, and cancer tumors with strong warnings that this could happen to you if you continue to smoke.

There is some indication that these graphic warning labels may be more effective, but it’s worth noting that global consumers smoke 5.763 billion cigarettes worldwide each year. Worldwide, about one-third of all males are estimated to be smokers. So, there is some question as to if these harsher warning labels work any better than the ones currently featured here in the united States.

Regardless, we’ll find out soon enough if graphic warning labels work better, because they’re coming to the US in the very near future. The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act signed into place in June 2009 dictates that the FDA will come up with the graphic warning images by 2011 and the cigarette companies will have to begin using them by 2012.

Do you think these graphic warning labels will work?


  1. 1

    This article is definitely an informative and eye opener one. I really like how it was written, straightforward and on point. I think the best way out of it is to stop the manufacturers in reproducing it, simple as that. Sound hilarious, but absolutely effective.

  2. 2

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  3. 3

    Just a technical point: Are you sure the figure for annual global cigarette consumption is 5.763 billion? If that’s the case, then that’s 15.79 million cigarettes consumed per day worldwide. 15.79 million divided by 20 yields 789,452 packs of cigarettes. If, as is stated in the article, about a third of men worldwide smoke, then this figure is WAY too low. This 789,452 (less than a million!) figure implies that less than a million people in the world smoke a pack of cigarettes a day.

    Here are just some statistics from an article entitled “Miller: Cigarette Consumption at Lowest Level Since Before 1950” which pertains solely to the US:
    “Miller said U.S. annual consumption of cigarettes has declined by more than 135 billion over the past decade, according to the USDA. In 1997, the year before the MSA, 480 billion cigarettes were consumed in the United States. By 2007, that number had dropped to 360 billion, reflecting a nearly 25% decline. The projected rate for 2008 is even lower, 344 billion cigarettes — a 28% decline since 1998.” Source:

  4. 4

    Great post. I was checking constantly this weblog and I’m impressed! Very useful info specifically the final section :) I maintain such info much. I was looking for this particular info for a very lengthy time. Thanks and best of luck.

  5. 5

    Heya i’m for the first time here. I came across this board and I find It truly useful & it helped me out much. I am hoping to give one thing again and help others like you aided me.

  6. 10

    The Question isn’t if the warning labels are working, it’s How Addictive are these cigarettes. Everyone that smokes will tell you that they know there are poisonous chemicals in them. They know that their chances of getting cancer are extremely high. But they continue to smoke despite all this because they like the way it feels. They just cannot go without one when that craving hits. So i say again, its not whether the labels are working. The Question Is How Do We Break The Dependancy That The Cigarette Companies Have So Strategically Build Up In The Systems Of Our People. THE PROBLEM IS NOT MENTAL, IT IS CHEMICAL.

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