Smokers' memories could help them quit

February 16, 2017 by Kristen Parker , Ali Hussain , Maria Lapinski, Michigan State University
Credit: Vera Kratochvil/public domain

Rather than inciting fear, anti-smoking campaigns should tap into smokers' memories and tug at their heartstrings, finds a new study by Michigan State University researchers.

Advertisers often use nostalgia-evoking messages to promote consumer products, and that tactic could be just as effective in encouraging healthy behaviors, argue Ali Hussain, a doctoral candidate in the School of Journalism, and Maria Lapinski, professor in the Department of Communication.

"A lot of no- messages are centered around fear, disgust and guilt," Hussain said. "But smokers often don't buy the messages and instead feel badly about themselves and the person who is trying to scare them."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease in the United States, accounting for one of every five deaths. Smoking rates have declined, but in 2015, 15 of every 100 adults were active smokers.

Despite the health risks, a key hurdle for health communicators is rejection and avoidance of messages, Lapinski said.

Hoping to find a solution, researchers conducted a study of smokers, ages 18 to 39, exposing some to a nostalgic public service announcement Hussain created and some to a control message.

Those who viewed the PSA reported greater nostalgic emotions and displayed stronger negative attitudes toward smoking, especially women.

Starting with images of childhood memories, the PSA script includes phrases such as, "I remember when I was a boy" and "I miss the simplicity of life, being outside on a warm summer night," making references to familiar smells and tastes from bygone days. It ends with the narrator remembering when someone introduced him to cigarettes and a call to action.

So why did it work?

Nostalgia-themed PSAs play off consumers' most cherished and personal memories, so they feel more engaged, the researchers said. And that nostalgic thinking influences attitudes and behaviors.

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

The study is published in Communication Research Reports.

Explore further: Study shows effectiveness of testimonial warning labels on tobacco products

More information: Syed A. Hussain et al, Nostalgic Emotional Appeals for Smoking Prevention, Communication Research Reports (2016). DOI: 10.1080/08824096.2016.1235557

Related Stories

Study shows effectiveness of testimonial warning labels on tobacco products

December 12, 2016
Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States. Cigarette packaging has required textual warning labels about the health risks of smoking since 1966. Yet, 15 percent of U.S. adults—36.5 ...

No safe level of smoking: Even low-intensity smokers are at increased risk of earlier death

December 5, 2016
People who consistently smoked an average of less than one cigarette per day over their lifetime had a 64 percent higher risk of earlier death than never smokers, and those who smoked between one and 10 cigarettes a day had ...

Extreme negative anti-smoking ads can backfire, experts find

August 22, 2011
Health communicators have long searched for the most effective ways to convince smokers to quit. Now, University of Missouri researchers have found that using a combination of disturbing images and threatening messages to ...

Adolescent perceptions about smoking have changed over decade

December 6, 2016
California adolescents perceive smoking cigarettes to be riskier – and less socially acceptable – than they did a dozen years ago, according to a new study that comes amid a changing tobacco product landscape.

College educated more likely to use e-cigs to quit cigarette smoking

September 7, 2016
Users of both electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) and cigarettes may be more intent on quitting tobacco, but that intention seems to drop off among less educated smokers, according to a study by Georgia State University ...

Smoking rate among US adults drops to 15 percent

September 1, 2015
The number of cigarette smokers in the United States has dropped to about 15 percent of the population, its lowest in decades, US health authorities said Tuesday.

Recommended for you

Accurate measurements of sodium intake confirm relationship with mortality

June 21, 2018
Eating foods high in salt is known to contribute to high blood pressure, but does that linear relationship extend to increased risk of cardiovascular disease and death? Recent cohort studies have contested that relationship, ...

Fans of yoga therapy have yet to win over doctors

June 21, 2018
Yoga practitioners often tout the unique health benefits of the ancient discipline—from relieving stress and pain to improving vascular health—but most doctors remain sceptical in the absence of hard proof.

Fruit and vegetables linked to changes in skin colour, new research finds

June 21, 2018
Skin colour in young Caucasian men is strongly linked to high levels of fruit and vegetable consumption, new research by Curtin University has found.

What a pain: The iPad neck plagues women more

June 20, 2018
Is your iPad being a literal pain in the neck?

Medicaid work requirements and health savings accounts may impact people's coverage

June 20, 2018
Current experimental approaches in Medicaid programs—including requirements to pay premiums, contribute to health savings accounts, or to work—may lead to unintended consequences for patient coverage and access, such ...

Introduction of alcohol found to adversely impact fertility rates in hunter-gatherer community

June 19, 2018
Fernando Ramirez Rozzi, a research director with the French National Centre for Scientific Research has found that the introduction of alcohol to a Baka pygmy hunter-gatherer society caused fertility rates to fall. In his ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.