Positive and negative messages both prompt smokers to quit

A mix of messages - such as those that stress the benefits of kicking the butt and those which emphasise health risks of smoking - might work best to convince smokers to quit, scientists say.

Washington: A mix of messages - such as those that stress the benefits of kicking the butt and those which emphasise health risks of smoking - might work best to convince smokers to quit, scientists say.

Researchers have found that "gain-framed" messages - those that stressed the benefits in quitting, such as "quitting smoking reduces the risk of death due to tobacco" - were more effective for smokers who thought they could quit when they wanted.

On the other hand "loss-framed" messages - the ones that emphasised the negative outcomes from smoking, such as "smoking can kill you" - were more effective for smokers who believed quitting would be hard.

The study, led by researchers at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, involved 740 participants and suggests that a mix of messages might work best to help convince smokers to give up the habit.

Most of the warnings used now on tobacco packages in the US, and worldwide, are loss-framed messages, which may not be sufficiently convincing to many smokers, said the study's lead investigator, Darren Mays, a Georgetown Lombardi population scientist who specialises in behavioural cancer prevention.

"This study shows us that leveraging both gain- and loss-framed messaging may prompt more smokers to quit," he said.

Mays and colleagues chose to study the impact of four pictorial pictures - a man using a breathing apparatus; two sets of lungs, one healthy and one diseased; a prone man with stitches on his chest lying on a white sheet; and the cancerous mouth - with loss-frame or gain-framed messages.

Each was effective, researchers found.

"Leveraging policies such as graphic warnings for cigarette packs to help smokers quit is critical to improve public health outcomes. Our study shows that that framing messages to address smokers' pre-existing attitudes and beliefs may help achieve this goal," said Mays.

The study was published in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research.

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