Evaluation of ad strategies for preventing youth tobacco use
Initial Award Abstract
Even as smoking rates among adults continue to decline, the rate for adolescents has begun to rise again in the past few years. With this as backdrop, it becomes more important than ever to develop unique ways of reaching youngsters in an effort to dissuade them from smoking. A few states, California and Massachusetts in particular, have been actively developing and airing TV messages targeted uniquely at young people. The few efforts to assess the effectiveness of these and other campaigns have yielded mixed results. California’s anti-smoking efforts, based on Proposition 99, appear to have been more successful with adults than with adolescents. Massachusetts’ efforts are still in their early stages. Moreover, little has been done to disentangle the very different types of messages that have been used in order to assess which approach might be most effective. A review of the various messages that have been developed across the country suggests three main approaches:
1) Health Consequences of Smoking. These messages portray the health consequences of smoking, from those that are nearer term, such as impaired breathing and asthma, to the longer term consequences that include lung and throat cancer. While teens, feeling “invulnerable,” may try to disassociate themselves from these messages, the demonstration of the consequences of smoking might be effective when done well.
2) Shifting Normative Perceptions of Smoking. When asked, most adolescents (incorrectly) indicate that they believe a majority of their peers smoke. This misperception results in their feeling vulnerable to social pressures to smoke. A set of messages have been developed to suggest that not only do most teens not smoke, but that the majority of teens regard smoking as “uncool” and socially unaccept-able.
3) A Portrayal of Tobacco Marketing Strategies. A primary motivation leading teens to smoke appears to be their desire to portray themselves as independent and “grown up.” A set of messages has been developed to disassociate cigarettes from this motivation. The messages describe how tobacco marketing strategies can lead young people to smoke. These strategies can, in effect, “rob” teenagers of their ability to make their own decisions. It is hoped that an understanding of the marketing/advertising process will lead teens to react by rejecting the tobacco firms’ persuasive efforts and thus reject cigarettes as a symbol of independence and maturity.
The proposed study will select the best of each of these types of messages that are available. Comparable groups of adolescents will be exposed to one of the three types of messages (or a combination of all three) in an effort to determine which type can best help them to resist starting to smoke. The adolescents’ responses, including how they view smokers and whether they themselves intend to start smoking, will be compared to an equivalent (control) group that remains unexposed to any of the anti-smoking messages.
It is our hope that the proposed research can provide direction to state public health officials regarding which type of message will be most effective in helping teens resist cigarette smoking. |
Even as smoking rates among adults continue to decline, the rate for adolescents has begun to rise again in the past few years. With this as a backdrop, it becomes more important than ever to develop unique ways of reaching youngsters in an effort to dissuade them from smoking. A few states, California and Massachusetts in particular, have been actively developing and airing antismoking ads but so far they have had minimal impact on lowering youths' smoking rates. Minimal research has been done to disentangle the different types of messages that have been used in order to assess which approaches might be relatively more vs. less effective at dissuading adolescents from smoking.
We reviewed the various messages that have been developed throughout the country and world and identified 3 main types of antismoking ads that we further subdivided into 7 theoretically distinguishable subtypes. Next, we recruited 1141 ethnically diverse 7th and 10th grade male and female subjects to classify the 196 ads in our database into types and subtypes. Finally, we recruited another 1658 7th and 10th graders to test the effectiveness of the ad types and subtypes, using as our main criteria the impact of the ads on subjects' intent to smoke within a year.
The following table summarizes our findings regarding the most commonly used ad types and subtypes and our results regarding ad effectiveness:
1) Fear Appeals (3 subtypes) These messages portray the long term health consequences of smoking such as lung and throat cancer, including the risks of second-hand smoke. The three subtypes are: (a) smokers may face serious health problems, (b) smokers endanger their family members, and (c) tobacco companies share responsibility for smokers' health problems. All of these messages aim to elicit fear, which results in heightened cognitive and emotional involvement or interest. The messages also attempt to alter viewers' beliefs regarding the perceived severity of the risks of smoking and/or one's personal vulnerability to those risks. Most importantly, these ads seek to lower motivations to smoke and intent to smoke. Our results indicate that the type (b) fear appeal, which focuses on the family, is highly effective while the other two subtypes are relatively ineffective in that they do not impact future intent to smoke.
2) Shifting Normative Perceptions of Smoking (3 subtypes) These messages attempt to reduce perceptions that most young people smoke and that smoking is necessary for peer acceptance, which may cause youth to succumb to the presumed social pressures to smoke. The three subtypes are: (a) smoking is unattractive cosmetically, (b) smokers are perceived by peers as misguided, and (c) most young people choose not to smoke. Our findings indicate that message subtypes (b) and (c) are highly effective at lowering youths' motivations to smoke and smoking intent, while subtype (a) is relatively ineffective.
3) A Portrayal of Tobacco Marketing Strategies Strategies (1 subtype) This type of message describes how tobacco marketing strategies can lead young people to smoke. The approach assumes that an understanding of the marketing/advertising process will lead teens to reject tobacco firms' persuasive efforts. Our findings suggest that the messages increase knowledge of marketers' persuasive tactics but do not impact youths' intent to smoke.
We hope that our findings can provide direction to state public health officials regarding which types of messages will be most effective in helping teens to resist cigarette smoking. |