Winston and other cigarette packets in the UK must, by law, be adorned with stern general warnings to smokers. “Smoking kills” and “Smoking causes infertility” are just two grim, but very truthful, examples. Although these messages can work very effectively, can tailored anti-smoking communications have an even more significant effect?
A new study, which was published in the Nature Neuroscience journal, shows that personalised anti-smoking advice had a greater effect on certain parts of the brain. Test subjects were exposed to various anti-smoking messages – some were general, applying to all smokers, while others were adapted to the subjects’ individual life histories.
The researchers found that these tailored messages stimulated two parts of the brain much more significantly than others. These parts of the brain were responsible for the people’s self-perceptions: their ideas about how people around them viewed them.
Doctors say the impact of being told to quit smoking by a friend, relative or doctor, face-to-face, can be psychologically greater than that of a general warning.
Nonetheless, warnings on cigarette packets have been effective. Studies have demonstrated that, in countries where cigarette packets feature health messages, there is greater awareness about the health conditions that tobacco can cause. Conditions that smoking is related to include: heart disease, lung cancer, infertility, impotence and high blood pressure. Smokers who give up face a lower likelihood of developing these conditions.
In America, Time Magazine points out that advice on cigarette packets has become notably harsher. In the 1960s, one of the first messages displayed on containers was: “Cigarette smoking may be hazardous to your health.” Modern packets read: “Surgeon General’s Warning: Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, Heart Disease, Emphysema, And May Complicate Pregnancy.”