Forget Scare Tactics: Study Finds Better Way To Get Smokers To Quit

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Anti-smoking campaigns in recent years have included graphic images or disturbing videos that demonstrate how lighting up can harm the human body. As terrifying as some of those spots are, a new study finds that they might not be the most effective way to reach smokers.

Research published last month in the journal Communication Research Reports suggests that the way to help smokers quit could be focusing on their memories and “tugging at their heartstrings” as opposed to creating fear. While the message from the disturbing ads are accurate, creating change might do better coming from a positive place, according to researchers from Michigan State University.

Tapping into a smoker’s memories instead of attempting to scare them with graphic images may be a more effective way to get them to quit, a new study finds.

To reach their conclusion, the researchers looked at a group of 169 smokers between ages 18 and 39. Some participants were shown a nostalgic public service announcement that was created by researcher Ali Hussain, a doctoral candidate in the university’s school of journalism. The ads featured phrases in their scripts such as, “I remember when I was a boy,” and “I miss the simplicity of life, being outside on a warm summer night.” The video ends with the narrator recalling his first experience with cigarettes.

The remaining participants viewed a control video showing a car’s oil being changed.

After watching the messages they found that the smokers who watched the PSA showed “greater nostalgic emotion,” in addition to feeling more pessimistic about smoking than the people who watched the control video. They found this to be particularly true with women.

The findings provide some hope for trying out some different treatment tactics in the future.

“A lot of no-smoking messages are centered around fear, disgust, and guilt. But smokers often don’t buy the messages and instead feel badly about themselves and the person who is trying to scare them,” Hussain says in a university release.

Maria Lapinski, professor in the Department of Communication and the study’s co-author explained how the findings could help.

“Our study, which to our knowledge is first of its kind, shows promise for using nostalgic messages to promote pro-social behaviors,” she says. “We know that policy and environmental changes have an influence on smoking and this study indicates persuasive messages can influence smoking attitudes.”

Despite smoking rates taking a downward trend in recent years, it’s still the leading cause of preventable disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.



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