A new study suggests combining positive messages about quitting smoking with negative messages about the health effects of tobacco use may be more effective than using either strategy alone.
Smokers who believe quitting will be difficult respond better to messages about the harmful effects of smoking, while those who believe they can quit whenever they want benefit more from messages about how stopping smoking will improve their health, the study found.
Using a mix of both types of messages could be the most effective way of reaching the most smokers, the researchers said. Currently, most tobacco warnings on cigarette packages are negative, or "loss-framed," messages, HealthDay reports.
Their effectiveness could be improved by adding "gain-framed" positive ideas, the researchers wrote in Nicotine & Tobacco Research.
"This study shows us that leveraging both gain- and loss-framed messaging may prompt more smokers to quit," lead investigator Darren Mays of the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, said in a university news release.
The study involved 740 smokers who were shown various images: a man using a device to help him breathe; a healthy lung next to a cancer-ridden lung; a man lying on a sheet with stitches in his chest, and a mouth damaged by cancer. The images have either positive messages, which emphasized the health benefits of quitting, or negative messages, which emphasized the increased risk of death from smoking.
All of the images were effective, the study found."Leveraging policies such as graphic warnings for cigarette packs to help smokers quit is critical to improve public health outcomes," Mays said. "Our study shows that framing messages to address smokers' pre-existing attitudes and beliefs may help achieve this goal."