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Addict Biol. 2015 Mar;20(2):368-76. doi: 10.1111/adb.12117. Epub 2013 Dec 15.

Emotional graphic cigarette warning labels reduce the electrophysiological brain response to smoking cues.

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  • 1Annenberg Public Policy Center, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, USA.


There is an ongoing public debate about the new graphic warning labels (GWLs) that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposes to place on cigarette packs. Tobacco companies argued that the strongly emotional images FDA proposed to include in the GWLs encroached on their constitutional rights. The court ruled that FDA did not provide sufficient scientific evidence of compelling public interest in such encroachment. This study's objectives were to examine the effects of the GWLs on the electrophysiological and behavioral correlates of smoking addiction and to determine whether labels rated higher on the emotional reaction (ER) scale are associated with greater effects. We studied 25 non-treatment-seeking smokers. Event-related potentials (ERPs) were recorded while participants viewed a random sequence of paired images, in which visual smoking (Cues) or non-smoking (non-Cues) images were preceded by GWLs or neutral images. Participants reported their cigarette craving after viewing each pair. Dependent variables were magnitude of P300 ERPs and self-reported cigarette craving in response to Cues. We found that subjective craving response to Cues was significantly reduced by preceding GWLs, whereas the P300 amplitude response to Cues was reduced only by preceding GWLs rated high on the ER scale. In conclusion, our study provides experimental neuroscience evidence that weighs in on the ongoing public and legal debate about how to balance the constitutional and public health aspects of the FDA-proposed GWLs. The high toll of smoking-related illness and death adds urgency to the debate and prompts consideration of our findings while longitudinal studies of GWLs are underway.

© 2013 Society for the Study of Addiction.


Attentional bias; P300; cigarette craving; event-related potentials; graphic cigarette warning labels; tobacco control policy

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[Available on 2016-03-01]
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