Scary anti-smoking slogans ‘make you light up’

Cigarette packets with serious health warnings could actually encourage people to continue smoking, research suggests...

Health messages on cigarette packets that warn of the fatal effects of smoking can actually drive people to light up, a study has found.

According to the research, smokers who are continually confronted with warnings that cigarettes kill, actually develop coping mechanisms to justify continuing their habit.

The effect is linked to a psychological theory known as Terror Management, which holds that some people feel such extreme anxiety at the prospect of dying that they constantly need to boost their self-esteem to cope.

Those who get their self-worth from smoking – because it makes them feel sexy or cool – will find themselves doing it even more to allay their fears. The solution, according to the study by New York University and the University of Basel, Switzerland, is slogans that say smoking makes you ugly and nerdy.


‘In general, when smokers are faced with death-related anti-smoking messages on cigarette packs, they produce active coping attempts as reflected in their willingness to continue the risky smoking behaviour,’ the study said.

‘To succeed with anti-smoking messages on cigarette packs one has to take into account that considering their death may make people smoke.’

A Department of Health spokesman said: ‘Health warnings on tobacco packaging have played an important role in helping smokers understand the risks of tobacco use and where to get help to quit. Research from around the world has shown that different people react to different types of messages to motivate them to attempt to quit’.

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