Which ‘Why You Should Quit’ Message Is Most Effective On Smokers?
Smoking cessation messages are public health advertisements and campaigns designed to encourage current smokers to stop using cigarettes, which contain the addictive substance nicotine. Some of these ads and campaigns focus on the steps required to quit smoking, while others focus on the reasons for quitting smoking. In a study published in March 2014 in the American Journal of Health Promotion, a team of American researchers compared the effectiveness of “how-you-can-quit” smoking cessation messages to the effectiveness of “why-you-should-quit” messages as motivations for actually attempting to cease cigarette intake.
Get The Anti-Smoking Message
An agency inside the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services called the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration uses nationwide, annual survey information to track smoking rates among U.S. adults and teenagers. All told, about 22 percent of Americans in this broad age range smoke cigarettes each month. The peak smoking rate of 34.1 percent occurs among people between the ages of 21 and 25. People between the ages of 26 and 29 have a slightly lower smoking rate of 33.4 percent; in addition, close to a third (31.9 percent) of individuals between the ages of 30 and 34 smoke cigarettes. Three other segments of the population (people between the ages of 18 and 20, people between the ages of 35 and 39, and people between the ages of 45 and 49) also have a monthly smoking rate of over 25 percent. The monthly smoking rate drops below 20 percent only in adults age 60 or older and in children 17 and younger.
What Are Smoking Cessation Messages?
All smoking cessation messages have a target audience. In some cases, this audience is fairly broad and includes smokers from a range of backgrounds and segments of the population. In other cases, the target audience for a message is fairly narrow and includes only a single segment of the larger group of teen or adult smokers. In addition, some messages appear in isolation while others appear as part of larger, coordinated campaigns that continue for extended periods of time. Smoking cessation ads and campaigns can come from private institutions or from various levels of county, state or federal government. In addition, they can appear in a number of media settings, including TV, print or online outlets. Examples of recent campaigns undertaken on a national level include Tips from Former Smokers (from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and Smokefree Teen (from the National Institutes of Health).
Which Anti-Smoking Messages Work?
In the study published in the American Journal of Health Promotion, researchers from an organization called RTI International used information gathered from 3,002 smokers age 18 or older to determine which smoking cessation messages have the greatest ability to foster quit attempts. The information-gathering sessions took place between late 2010 and early 2011; during these sessions, the study participants were exposed to two basic types of smoking cessation messages: those that focused on the ways in which smokers can halt cigarette use and those that focused on the real-world reasons for halting cigarette use. In turn, the “why-you-should-quit” messages were broken down into those that contained testimonials from other smokers and those that contained images demonstrating serious smoking-related health harms. Some participants viewed only one type of smoking cessation message, while others viewed various combinations of messages.
The researchers concluded that, compared to smokers who don’t view any smoking cessation messages, smokers who view only “why-you-should-quit” messages—or a combination of “why-you-should-quit” and “how-you-can-quit” messages—are significantly more likely to change their viewpoints on cigarette use and adopt a more pro-cessation outlook. They also concluded that, compared to smokers who don’t view any smoking cessation messages, most of the smokers who see “why-you-should-quit” messages are substantially more inclined to couple their change in smoking outlook with active attempts to halt their cigarette intake.
The authors of the study published in the American Journal of Health Promotion also concluded that, when viewed on their own, “how-you-can-quit” smoking cessation messages do not promote meaningful changes in smokers’ attitudes or an increase in smoking cessation attempts. Although they did not determine the long-term effects of exposure to “why-you-should-quit” messages, they believe that such messages may help promote ongoing cigarette abstinence. In addition, the study’s authors note that “how-you-can-quit” smoking cessation messages may not have their desired effect when used as a main technique for reaching smokers.