Anti-Smoking Ads Backfire? Whudafxup?


The more anti-smoking ads middle schoolers see, the more likely they are to smoke, according to a study in the August issue of Communication Research. Hye-Jin Paek, an assistant professor at the University of Georgia's College of Journalism and Mass Communication, and Albert Gunther, a professor of life sciences communication at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, analyzed data from surveys that asked middle school students about their exposure to anti-smoking messages and their intention to smoke:

They found that, overall, the more the students were exposed to anti-smoking messages, the more inclined they were to smoke. The exception—where exposure to anti-smoking ads correlated with a reduced intention to smoke—occurred among students who said their friends were influenced by anti-smoking messages.

Generally speaking, Paek and Gunther conclude, "the ads appear to stimulate the rebellious and curious nature of youth, making them more interested in smoking." When anti-smoking ads work, they say, it's because they affect the social context of smoking, as opposed to directly persuading kids to avoid cigarettes. Notably, it's not clear from this study whether the self-consciously cool "truth" spots sponsored by the American Legacy Foundation are any more effective in this respect than the lame anti-smoking ads sponsored by Philip Morris, which previous research has found may backfire.