Why anti-smoking ads backfire or succeed

Armen Hareyan's picture
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Some anti-smoking ads are simply ineffective, while others actually make youth more likely to light up. Fortunately, some are successful, and a new University of Georgia study helps explain why.

Hye-Jin Paek, assistant professor at the UGA Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, found that anti-smoking ads are most effective when they convince youth that their friends are listening to the ads. Otherwise, the ads appear to stimulate the rebellious and curious nature of youth, making them more interested in smoking. Paek and co-author Albert Gunther from the University of Wisconsin-Madison examined data from surveys of nearly 1,700 middle school students, and their results appear in the August issue of the journal Communication Research.

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"Anti-smoking ads have the greatest impact on smoking attitudes and behavior when adolescents think that their peers are listening to those messages," Paek said. "And that makes sense because people are more likely to listen to what their close peers say rather than what the media says."

Evidence that anti-smoking ads have the potential to make youth more likely to smoke has been accumulating for the past five years. Paek and Gunther's study adds to that evidence and helps explain how anti-smoking ads can be effective.

The researchers surveyed students in four middle schools about their exposure to anti-smoking ads and their intentions to smoke. They found that, overall, the more the students were exposed to anti-smoking messages, the more inclined they were to smoke. The exception

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