Negative Anti-Smoking Ads Turn Off Anxious Viewers

Neurotic smokers more likely to avoid messages about health threats, study says

FRIDAY, Nov. 11 (HealthDay News) -- Certain types of anti-smoking ads may not be effective for young adult smokers who are generally anxious, according to a new study.

University of Georgia researchers found that these smokers tend to tune out anti-smoking videos that warn how smoking can lead to disease and death and how secondhand smoke can harm others.

"If you look at health messages, there is usually a threat trying to make you feel more scared," study co-author Jennifer Monahan, a professor of communication studies, said in a university news release. "Our study finds that this is not a good strategy with people who are neurotic and therefore more likely to smoke in the first place."

The way that health messages affect neurotic people is largely unexplored, said lead author and doctoral student Christin Bates Huggins.

"Neuroticism is a normal part of a normal personality," she said in the news release. "But to someone who is highly neurotic, a normal, everyday stressful situation becomes a much bigger deal."

The study included 200 college students aged 18 to 31 who completed a personality questionnaire and watched three different anti-smoking videos. The researchers found a strong association between high levels of neuroticism and a desire to avoid listening to or considering an anti-smoking message that caused fear, sadness or nervousness.

Neurotic students also felt that this type of message was biased and therefore not trustworthy.

The study was published online in the journal Health Communication.

The researchers said their findings suggest that positive messages may be far more effective in convincing neurotic smokers to kick the habit.

"If an ad showed a person saying, 'I'm a recovered smoker and look at how much energy I have. Look at how wonderful my life is,' then it could head off the negative response we've seen in our study," Huggins said.

More information

The American Cancer Society offers a guide to quitting smoking.

Robert Preidt SOURCE: University of Georgia, news release, Nov. 8, 2011

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