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Counter-Marketing of Tobacco


Tobacco counter-marketing campaigns are primarily intended to reduce smoking prevalence. This can be achieved by urging adolescents and adults not to take up smoking (prevention messages), or by convincing current smokers to quit (cessation messages).

In the past, many tobacco counter-marketing campaigns focused on smoking prevention among adolescents. It was thought that reducing smoking uptake among adolescents might be an easier task than trying to convince an addicted smoker to quit. However, many adolescents are exposed daily to role models of parents and older siblings who smoke, and their ability to withstand the lure of smoking under these circumstances may be minimal, even given the support of a tobacco counter-marketing campaign.

An adolescent smoking-prevention campaign should ideally coexist with a smoking cessation campaign. Young adults are an important target group for smoking cessation messages because their behavior can strongly influence the behavior of adolescents. Adolescents strive for maturity, and the smoking behavior of young adults serves as a role model for adolescents. Young adults may also be starting to form families and raise children, giving them a reason to question their smoking habit.

Older adults represent a more difficult target for inducing behavior change because of the average length of time they have been addicted to nicotine. However, as adults age, they also become more aware of their mortality and may be more open to messages about quitting smoking. Seeing friends or family members succumb to smoking-related diseases may also be a highly motivating reason to quit.

Tobacco counter-marketing campaigns employ various communication approaches, including fear appeals and positive appeals. Fear appeals typically show the negative effects of smoking, such as lung cancer, heart disease, and emphysema. However, adolescents and young adults may not be concerned about long-term health consequences, and they may respond more favorably to messages depicting negative short-term consequences such as bad breath, smelly clothes, or yellow fingers. Positive appeals, on the other hand, emphasize the positive benefits of being part of the smoke-free majority, such as better health, freedom from addiction, and cost savings. Humor, slice-of-life, and lifestyle advertising are used to depict nonsmoking as the norm.

Tobacco companies, through their advertising, sponsorship, and advocacy efforts, have worked hard at making tobacco use seem like a normal, socially acceptable activity. In response to this, many states have begun "denormalization" campaigns, intended to reduce the social acceptability of smoking. Some of these campaigns attack the tobacco industry by showing instances where tobacco companies have lied or attempted to mislead the public (e.g., by withholding information about the addictiveness of tobacco). Some of the advertisements show tobacco executives and tobacco companies in an unsavory light, depicting them as being greedy and heartless.

Another aspect of tobacco counter-marketing is aimed at reducing exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), also known as secondhand smoke. These protection messages educate smokers and nonsmokers about the health risks from exposure to secondhand smoke. There is significant evidence that ETS is dangerous for smokers and nonsmokers alike (due to its connection to sudden infant death syndrome, miscarriages, childhood asthma, lung cancer, and other conditions). Counter-marketing advertisements can help disseminate little-known information about the dangers of ETS to a broad audience. Increasing public knowledge of ETS helps to provide grassroots

support for stronger legislation regarding smoking in restaurants and bars and other public places.

Tobacco counter-marketing campaigns typically need a large pool of messages to effectively motivate target groups to quit smoking or to prevent smoking uptake. Individuals are exposed to thousands of advertising messages each day, but because of attitudinal selectivity and perceptual defense they tend to notice commercials most relevant to them personally while screening out messages that are not personally relevant. Consumers do, however, tend to notice advertising messages that are novel and attention getting. Over time, a commercial message will wear out as viewers tire of seeing it, thereby losing its effectiveness. Therefore, a tobacco counter-marketing campaign must continually release new commercial messages in order to break through the clutter.

A key problem with tobacco counter-marketing campaigns is that governments spend far less on promoting these campaigns than tobacco companies spend in promoting their products. Governments typically reap large sums in tax revenues from tobacco products, but are often unwilling to spend this revenue on reducing the prevalence of smoking. Governments need to be convinced that spending money on tobacco counter-marketing campaigns is an investment that will save lives, as well as large sums in future health care costs.

Anne M. Lavack

(see also: Adolescent Smoking; Advertising of Unhealthy Products; Communication for Health; Health Promotion and Education; Mass Media; Mass Media and Tobacco Control; Smoking Behavior; Smoking Cessation; Workplace Smoking Policies and Programs )


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