Combination of positively and negatively framed warnings about tobacco may motivate young people to quit

Create: 09/29/2014 - 20:45

What helps young people stay motivated quit smoking: a positive or negative spin on the ugly truth about tobacco? For example, “smoking can kill you” or “quitting smoking reduces the risk of death due to tobacco.”

The 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act requires new picture warning labels on the back of U.S. cigarette packages. However, action on this law has been delayed because of tobacco industry lawsuits. A study done by Darren Mays, PhD and colleagues at Georgetown University help support the FDA in implementing the warning label requirements. The researchers studied 740 smokers ages 18-30 for level of motivation to quit after viewing one of four cigarette packs with different messages and graphic pictures like healthy and diseased lungs or mouth cancer.

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There are two ways of presenting the message to smokers: gain- or loss-framed messages. Gain-framed messages show the positive of quitting, such as “quitting smoking reduces the risk of cancer,” while loss-framed messages show the negative of not quitting, such as “smoking kills.”

The study found that loss-framed warnings were more effective in motivating people that had high self-efficacy, while the gain-framed warnings were more motivating for smokers with low self-efficacy. The gain-framed warnings also motivated smokers who thought they had a high chance of getting lung cancer.

In conclusion, using a combination of both gain- and loss-framed picture warnings on cigarette packs could motivate more young people to quit smoking.

The study was recently published in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research.

Science news reference:

Framing Pictorial Cigarette Warning Labels to Motivate Young Smokers to Quit. Darren Mays, Monique M. Turner, Xiaoquan Zhao, W. Douglas Evans, George Luta, and Kenneth P. Tercyak. Tobacco and Nicotine Research, 2014. doi: 10.1093/ntr/ntu164

Science news source:

Georgetown University Medical Center


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