Should graphic warning labels proposed for cigarette packages sold in the United States mention the Food and Drug Administration?

Introduction Under the US Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has the authority to implement graphic warning labels (GWLs) on cigarette packages. Neither the original labels proposed by the FDA nor the revised labels include a source to indicate sponsorship of the warnings. This study tests the potential impact of adding a sponsor to the content of GWLs. Methods We recruited adult smokers (N = 245) and middle-school youth (N = 242) from low-income areas in the Northeastern US. We randomly assigned participants to view one of three versions of the original FDA–proposed warning labels in a between-subjects experiment: no sponsor, “US Food and Drug Administration,” or “American Cancer Society” sponsor. We tested the effect of varying sponsorship on source attribution and source credibility. Results Compared to unsponsored labels, FDA sponsorship increased source attributions that the FDA sponsored the labels among both middle-school, largely nonsmoking youth and adult smokers. However, sponsorship had no effect on source credibility among either population. Conclusions We found no evidence that adding FDA as the source is likely to boost source credibility judgments, at least in the short term; though doing so would not appear to have adverse effects on credibility judgments. As such, our data are largely consistent with the Tobacco Control Act’s provisions that allow, but do not require, FDA sponsorship on the labels. Implications This study addresses the FDA’s regulatory efforts by informing the possible design and content of future cigarette warning labels. Our results do not offer compelling evidence that adding the FDA name on GWLs will directly increase source credibility. Future work may test more explicit FDA source labeling and continue to examine the credibility of tobacco message content among high–priority populations.