How warnings that cigarettes kill can make you smoke MORE (to help cope with the idea of your death).
Health messages on cigarette packets that warn of the fatal effects of smoking can actually drive people to light up, a study has found.
Death is such a terrifying prospect that many find a comforting fag is the only answer.
The effect is linked to a psychological theory known as Terror Management, which holds that some people feel such extreme anxiety at the prospect of dying that they constantly need to boost their self-esteem to cope.
Those who get their self-worth from smoking – because it makes them feel sexy or cool – will find themselves doing it even more to allay their fears.
The solution, according to the study by New York University and the University of Basel, Switzerland, is slogans that say smoking makes you ugly and nerdy.
Their study of 39 psychology students aged 17 to 41, who were smokers, found that this was an effective encouragement to quit.
‘In general, when smokers are faced with death-related anti-smoking messages on cigarette packs, they produce active coping attempts as reflected in their willingness to continue the risky smoking behaviour,’ the study said.
‘To succeed with anti-smoking messages on discount cigarette packs one has to take into account that considering their death may make people smoke.’
Participants filled in a questionnaire to determine how much their smoking was based on self-esteem.
Then they were shown cigarette packs with different warnings on them.
After a 15-minute delay, the students were asked more questions about their smoking behaviour – including if they intended to quit.
‘One the one hand, death-related warnings were not effective and even ironically caused more positive smoking attitudes among smokers who based their self-esteem on smoking,’ the study said.
‘On the other hand, warning messages that were unrelated to death effectively reduced smoking attitudes the more recipients based their self-esteem on smoking.’
The researchers said this finding can be explained by the fact that warnings such as ‘smoking makes you unattractive’ may be particularly threatening to people who smoke to boost their self-esteem.
The study was published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
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