Cigarettes are perhaps one of the most controversial topics in history. There has been an on-going battle between health officials and tobacco companies ever since the surgeon general’s warning in 1965, over half a century ago. Since then, a wide variety of tactics were implemented in order to stop or at least reduce the number of smokers. But according to a new study from the University of Illinois, graphic imagery on cigarette packs has opposite effect.
As part of their study, the team of researchers looked at a sample of 435 undergrad college students, with ages between 18 and 25. Out of the 435 study participants, 17.5% were smokers at the time of the study. Then, the research began.
The smokers and the non-smokers were divided in half, with half of them receiving packs of cigarettes with one of seven graphic images on them, while the other half were only given packs of cigarettes with text-based warnings. Next, they had to fill in a questionnaire about their personalities and how they felt regarding the package.
As expected, both groups receiving the packs of smokes containing graphic images rated them poorly, with both smokers and non-smokers considering them an affront to their freedom of choice – like the government was meddling too much in their affairs, trying to control them.
This is where the very complex mechanism of psychological reluctance comes in. Most people that considered the packs to be an affront presented this personality trait. Psychological reluctance makes you more prone to resist doing something when being told what to do. We’ve all been there.
When you are told over and over again to do or not to do something until you want to do the opposite of whatever it is “they” want you to do is a moment of psychological reluctance. Well, as it turns out, most people who are smokers tend to have this personality trait.
Showing the situation to be more concerning than it was already thought to be, the results of the study suggest that by plastering cigarette packs with graphic imagery might actually drive people to keep smoking, or even to pick up the habit, as they feel like their privacy and freedom of choice is being limited.
It’s obvious that images with people dying, going through surgery, or having extremely gory wounds as a result of smoking are meant as an intimidation tactic, and since most smokers are apt to respond to intimidation tactics by doing the opposite of what they’re wanted to do, it might just be time for the FDA to look for different ways of getting people to live healthier.
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