October 9, 2012

Strong Emotion, Graphic Images Increase Impact of Antismoking Ads

Highlights

  • Antismoking advertisements that feature highly emotional or graphic content are more likely to motivate smokers to try to quit smoking
  • The study examined the association between exposure to different types of antismoking television ads and the frequency of quit attempts among adult smokers in New York
  • Emotional and graphic ads were effective in prompting quit attempts among smokers regardless of their income and education levels

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Matthew Farrelly
Matthew Farrelly

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Antismoking advertisements that feature highly emotional or graphic content are more likely to motivate smokers to try to quit smoking than ads that offer smoking cessation advice or encouragement, according to a new study by researchers at RTI International, Kansas Health Foundation and the New York State Department of Health.

The study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, examined the association between exposure to different types of antismoking television ads and the frequency of quit attempts among adult smokers in New York.

“The implications of this study are fairly straightforward: if the goal is to motivate smokers to try and quit smoking, antismoking advertisements should be designed to elicit a strongly negative emotional reaction,” said Matthew Farrelly, Ph.D., chief scientist and senior director of RTI's Public Health Policy Research Program and lead author of the paper.

The study used data from the New York Adult Tobacco Survey, which includes measures of tobacco product use, smoking cessation, self-reported recall of antismoking ads and socio-demographic characteristics. Researchers analyzed data from more than 8,700 smokers to determine if the style of advertisement impacted an individual’s likelihood of trying to quit smoking. 

Smokers who recalled seeing emotional or graphic antismoking ads such as those including personal testimonials about smoking-related health consequences or images of diseased lungs, had an increased odds of quitting in the previous 12 months of 29 percent compared to those who did not.

Other ads, which often included advice on smoking cessation or reminders about the dangers of secondhand smoke exposure, were not associated with an increase in quit attempts.

The study also examined the impact of different kinds of ads among smokers based on their individual desire to quit, income and level of education. The researchers found that emotional and graphic ads were effective in prompting quit attempts among smokers regardless of their income and education levels, whereas the comparison ads were not.

“These results suggest that well-funded, hard-hitting antismoking campaigns can promote cessation among populations with historically high smoking rates,” Farrelly said. “Our findings support the growing evidence that televised messages using emotional, personal testimonials about the consequences of smoking or graphic images to depict the negative health consequences of smoking are effective.”