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Do scary ad’s stop people smoking or make them puff harder

There was a good piece in The Hindu over the weekend suggesting that high fear advertisements are an effective way of getting smokers to quit. It cited a World Lung Foundation study that asked smokers to rate ad’s and discuss them in focus groups.

Any ad agency could have told the WLF that market research subjects rarely tell the whole truth about the way they respond to ad’s. If you ask people whether the sight of blackened lungs will make them think about quitting, they will respond rationally: of course it will. Humans are not wholly rational though. Other studies suggest that high fear ad’s actually promote smoking and make smokers inhale more — some of that research is cited in this June 2011 article from Discover magazine in the USA. These irrational responses are often invisible; even when the viewer recognises them, he may not admit to it. In an article in Science, psychologist Carol Tavris says, “”Dissonance is a pretty powerful phenomenon,” … It explains “why people continue to do things they know are harmful, but still see themselves as smart.” And the people most likely to do this, she says, are the ones who have tried to quit and failed.

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