A number of you may have wondered why labels, such as the “Smoking kills” one, on cigarettes packages do not deter everyone from smoking. Yes, these labels do not deter everyone (Hansen, Winzeler & Topolinski, 2009). One theory suggested that the negative effects of smoking and the positive effects of not smoking may seem so far away in time that they do not matter to some smokers (Bickel, Odum & Madden, 1999). This is a tendency called temporal discounting, where consequences further and further into future seem less and less significant (Critchfield & Kollins, 2001). Thus, some smokers do not mind those negative effects maybe until those negative effects actually come (Bickel et al., 1999). As a result, those messages have failed to create a need to stop smoking in some people before it is too late. Hence, some continue. However, Hansen et al., (2009) found that these labels could in fact encourage smoking. Good for cigarette companies’ sales! Though, the labels work on some people (Hansen et al., 2009). Bad for cigarette companies’ sales. The one label convinces all ideal did not happen there.
For various people, telling them that they could die from doing something can make that something worth doing (Hansen et al., 2009). Hansen et al, (2009) proposed that the risk of death from smoking can cause anxiety and it does not always stop there. The Terror Management Theory suggest that self-esteem can lessen anxiety as a form of emotional protection (Pyszczynski, Greenberg, Solomon, Arndt & Schimel, 2004). Hence, those who gain self-esteem from smoking can transform this anxiety to fuel their self-esteems further, creating a positive “Woo! Look at me, I’m doing something dangerous yet I’m fine!” type mentality towards smoking (Hansen et al., 2009; Pyszczynski et al., 2004).
On the other hand, Hansen et al. (2009) found that non-death-related messages, like “Smoking makes you unattractive”, can reduce the appeal of smoking more than death-related messages for people with smoking-dependent self-esteems. Nevertheless, neither types of the messages used in the study by Hansen et al. (2009) may be ideal. How obvious the persuasion attempt is can affect how much people accept it (Shadel, Fryer & Tharp-Taylor, 2010). Shadel et al. (2010) concluded that blatant persuasion in anti-smoking announcements could cause people to feel psychological reactance, which is not the usual aim of campaigns. This is because reactance is where a person not only rejects a message, but acts against it even if they would have preferred to follow the message (Miller, Lane, Deatrick, Young & Potts, 2007). Hence, if an anti-smoking message triggers reactance, the reader may feel more inclined to smoke even if they hate smoking. Humans can be motivated to keep or regain their freedom and they could act against their own logic and principles to exercise freedom (Miller et al., 2007). Thus, they gain more reason to continue or start smoking.
Some people are better off not reading those labels. So you may need to take care in creating public health campaign and laws.
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