Stop smoking medical supplies better than graphic warnings?
It would seem as if good ol’ smoking cessation medical supplies such as nicotine gum or patches remain the go-to method for kicking the habit over graphic warnings on cigarette packs. According to a study from the University of Illinois, the gruesome images are not only ineffective, but may actually be counterproductive – which is an outcome that even Stevie Wonder could have seen coming a mile away. “What we found is that most people don't like these warning labels, whether they are smokers or nonsmokers,” doctoral student in communication lead author Nicole LaVoie said in a press release.
“It makes them angry, it makes them express negative thoughts about the packaging, that they're being manipulated,” she added. “Ultimately, it also makes them think that the source - the government in this case, mandating these labels - is being overly domineering, is being too much in their business.” Not to say that the warnings are insulting to the intelligence of people. Cigarettes cause cancer, strokes, and heart disease? Well, duh! Every smoker knows that going in. The advantage of medical supplies such as smoking aids is that, in a way, they preach to the already converted – smokers who want to quit. But images on a pack of smokes may make people smoke even more, not less.
Not only “the good intentions of this tobacco control measure may be for naught,” but “we might actually be doing harm to a group that might need the most help if they're battling an addiction to smoking,” said LaVoie, referring to a “boomerang effect.” “If these individuals see things as freedom threats, they are going to be more attracted to perform the threatened behavior,” professor of communication and one of three co-authors of the study, Brian Quick, said. In the study, 435 undergraduates aged 18-25 (of which 17.5% were smokers) were given a cigarette package; half of the smokers and half of the non-smokers were given a package with FDA-approved graphic images for possible use in the United States, and the rest were given packs with written warnings currently in use in the U.S.
Smokers were more likely to display “reactance” toward the images, a psychological trait that makes people more prone to negative and resistant thoughts when they think they are being told what to do. “We always measure and look at the intended effects, like encouraging people to quit smoking, but sometimes we don't remember to look at what else these messages are doing that we're not thinking about, like causing reactance,” LaVoie said. “Our goal is to think about what can we do, what messages can we construct, that are effective for the whole, but also target these groups that are the most in need of help.” It would be interesting if someone conducted a similar study comparing the effects of graphic warnings against those of the aforementioned medical supplies for smoking cessation.