Three studies provide empirical, social scientific tests of alternatives to the originally proposed U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cigarette package warning labels on health risk beliefs, perceived fear, and effectiveness. Our research addresses questions at the root of the legal disputes surrounding FDA regulation of cigarette package warning labels. Specifically, we describe results from three studies that investigate the mediating role of health beliefs and perceived fear in shaping message effectiveness and intentions to quit. The first study featured nonsmoking young adults, while the second and third studies sampled adult daily smokers. Each study was a randomized experiment with five warning-label image conditions: full-color graphic warning labels, black-and-white graphic warning labels, warning text (no graphic image), Surgeon General’s warning labels, and no warning. Results consistently indicate that graphic warning labels (in both color and black-and-white) promote increased perceptions of fear, which in turn are associated with greater (perceived and actual) effectiveness. We conclude with a discussion of the results, highlighting implications, public policy considerations, and suggestions for future research.
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