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Do scary anti-smoking ads really work?

The last time the Department of Health tried to put the frighteners on smokers with a television advertising campaign, it got into trouble with the Advertising Standards Authority.

Apparently, this 2009 ad was much too scary for children. And could, in the future, be screened only after 7.30 in the evening:

That scary. Makes you wonder what the ASA would think of the following campaign, which has just broken in the United States:

Gruesome is the word that comes to mind. Enough to give small children nightmares for months, if not years, to come. It’s just one execution from a $54m (about £35m) multimedia campaign launched by US government agency Centers for Disease Control. “Really goes for the trachea”, as one US journalist put it; and the other ads are hardly less “gripping”.

But do shock-tactics actually work, faced with a tobacco industry which still wields a $10bn annual marketing budget?

Surprisingly, perhaps, CDC director Thomas Frieden admits that he was once a sceptic himself, while serving as commissioner of the New York Health Department. He has since changed his views in the light of research indicating success is positively correlated to a “dose-related strategy”. In other words, the more grand guignol horror you are subjected to, the more you are likely to give up the weed.

As it happens, Frieden’s successor at the NYHD shows none of the ASA’s squeamishness about inflicting psychic damage on young viewers. “I absolutely think it’s okay for an eight-year-old to be watching messages that prevent that child from becoming a smoker, even if it’s something that the parent and the child find disturbing,” Dr Tom Farley tells CBS.

Who, I wonder, has got it right here?

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One Response to Do scary anti-smoking ads really work?

  1. Lord Laraby says:

    Of course the ADA is applying curse the smoker tactics here. If you convince enough smokers strongly enough that they are dying in horrible ways as a smoker, it seems pretty well demonstrated by history that it will succeed in causing many many terrible tragic deaths.

    Funny as it seems, my experience with friends and relatives who smoke and some of who quit for fear of health concerns is that the ones who are still smoking are still living. The ones who have quit have also died not long afterwards from previously nonexistent cancer and or lung disease. Yes, anecdotal. But also suspicious.

    Munchhausen proved that you can make people ill by mental preparation and suggestion. Is the government now up to that too?

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