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Cigarette warning labels: graphics, framing, and identity

Xiaoquan Zhao (Department of Communication, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia, USA)
Xiaoli Nan (Department of Communication, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland, USA)
Bo Yang (Department of Communication, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland, USA)
Irina Alexandra Iles (Department of Communication, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland, USA)

Health Education

ISSN: 0965-4283

Article publication date: 28 January 2014




The purpose of this paper is to test the effects of cigarette warning labels that used text-only or text-plus relevant graphics. The labels were framed in terms of either the negative consequences of smoking (loss frame) or the benefits of not smoking (gain frame). The role of smoking identity – the centrality of being a smoker to one's self-concept – in the effects of the warning labels was also examined.


An experiment was conducted online with 132 college smokers. Participants were randomly assigned to viewing either graphic or text-only labels that were either gain or loss framed. Smoking identity was measure prior to viewing. Message evaluations and smoking intentions were assessed after exposure as dependent measures.


A consistent interaction between graphics and framing emerged across a number of dependent measures. For graphic warning labels, the loss frame was more advantageous than the gain frame. For text-only warning labels, framing did not make any difference. This two-way interaction was further qualified by smoking identity for some, but not all, dependent measures.

Practical implications

Findings from this study support the use of graphic warning labels that focus on the negative health consequences of smoking.


Experimental research on graphic cigarette warning labels is limited and rarely considers the roles of framing and smoking identity. This study offered an initial test of the complex interaction among these message and audience variables as they jointly influence message reception and smoking intentions.



Zhao, X., Nan, X., Yang, B. and Alexandra Iles, I. (2014), "Cigarette warning labels: graphics, framing, and identity", Health Education, Vol. 114 No. 2, pp. 101-117.



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Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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