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'Stop Smoking' Ads That Target Emotions Seem to Work Best

Testimonials, graphic images evoke response, study finds

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FRIDAY, Nov. 12, 2010 (HealthDay News) -- Television ads that encourage people to quit smoking are most effective when they use a "why to quit" strategy that includes either graphic images or personal testimonials, a new study suggests.

The three most common broad themes used in smoking cessation campaigns are why to quit, how to quit and anti-tobacco industry, according to scientists at RTI International, a research institute.

The study authors examined how smokers responded to and reacted to TV ads with different themes. They also looked at the impact that certain characteristics -- such as cigarette consumption, desire to quit, and past quit attempts -- had on smokers' responses to the different types of ads.

"While there is considerable variation in the specific execution of these broad themes, ads using the 'why to quit' strategy with graphic images or personal testimonials that evoke specific emotional responses were perceived as more effective than the other ad categories," lead author Kevin Davis, a senior research health economist in RTI's Public Health Policy Research Program, said in an institute news release.

Davis and his colleagues also found that those who had less desire to quit and those who had not tried quitting in the past year had significantly less favorable responses to all types of smoking cessation ads. The same was true, to a lesser extent, for smokers with high levels of cigarette consumption.

"These findings suggest that smokers clearly differ in their reactions to cessation-focused advertising based on their individual desire to quit, prior experience with quit attempts and, to a lesser degree, cigarette consumption. These are important considerations for campaign creators, designers and media planners," Davis said.

The study, published online in the journal Tobacco Control, used data from 7,060 adult smokers in New York State who took part in an online survey.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced a new "comprehensive tobacco control strategy" that would include not only graphic photos on packs of cigarettes, but bold statements such as "Smoking Will Kill You."

The proposed photos would include depictions of emaciated lung cancer patients, a dead body in a morgue, a baby confined to a respirator (presumably the result of secondhand smoke), and other consequences of smoking.

More information

The American Cancer Society offers a guide to quitting smoking.

SOURCE: RTI International, news release, Nov. 8, 2010

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