Years ago, I had a friend who was both a heavy smoker and a noted contrarian. One day as we were driving past a large anti-tobacco billboard he told me he thought that telling smokers not smoke was actually the best way to promote smoking, since it can't be legally advertised (on television, radio, and some publications) in the US. He also vowed to smoke a cigarette every time he saw one.

Tobacco advertising has long been criticized for targeting children and teenagers, as evidenced by the removal of "joe camel" from the advertising of Camel cigarettes. Given the typically rebellious behavior noted in teenagers, it would stand to a certain kind of reason that these advertisements could actually encourage them to smoke, or at least be unconvincing to those who had already decided to smoke. Running across articles like this indicates that my contrarian friend isn't the only person to hold this view.

Have anti-smoking campaigns and advertisements been shown to (either intentionally or unintentionally) promote smoking, either by encouraging new smokers to start, or by encouraging those who have already developed the habit to smoke more?

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    Are you asking "are there examples of people who are thusly affected by the ads", or "Does the existence of the ads cause an net increase in the number of smokers by causing MORE people to take up smoking than people who would be dissuaded by the ads"?
    – user5341
    May 1, 2011 at 2:17
  • @DVK I think for the purposes of this question, we would have to go with net gain vs. net loss, rather than examples of individual behavior. There will always be individual variables when it comes to any specific behavior, but I think here we should examine the information in the aggregate to properly assess these claims based on statistical analysis(if possible). May 2, 2011 at 1:11

2 Answers 2



ScienceDaily summarised an investigation into this by a group at the University of Georgia:

They found that, overall, the more the students were exposed to anti-smoking messages, the more inclined they were to smoke. The exception -- where exposure to anti-smoking ads correlated with a reduced intention to smoke -- occurred among students who said their friends were influenced by anti-smoking messages

Reference: University of Georgia (2007, July 20). Why Some Anti-smoking Ads Succeed And Others Backfire. ScienceDaily.

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    Is this still current? European countries currently see a very substantial reduction in smoking but warning labels are just one of many measures so ascertaining whether they are effective both interesting and nontrivial. May 29, 2013 at 15:20
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    Interesting area where specific cause and effect are hard to disentangle. Fairly clear, though, that conventional wisdom that only people who don't think cigarettes (or other drugs) are harmful actually take them is false.
    – matt_black
    May 29, 2013 at 21:47

Warning labels on Cigarette packs do seem to work to some degree.

Results: Of smokers, 14% became less inclined to purchase cigarettes because of the new warnings, 31.8% said they prefer to purchase a pack without the new warnings, 17.9% reported that warnings increased their motivated to quit and 10.3% said they smoked less. A strong dose-response relationship was observed between these effects and intention to quit. CONCLUSIONS: The new warnings made cigarette packs less attractive, especially to smokers who already intended to stop smoking

Reference pubmed

A survey of 8,836 people 15 and older in the Netherlands in 2002 found that 16% of the 2,812 smokers surveyed said that new, larger health warnings made them more motivated to quit, (this was 26% among smokers who intend to quit at some point); 8.7% said they were already smoking less as a result of the new warnings. Surveys find that a high proportion of smokers (for example, 70% in Canada) want to quit. Strong health warnings and information about where to turn for help in quitting help reinforce this attitude (Mahood 1995).
Reference: http://www.worldbank.org/

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    So, what are we to understand from your source and that of OddThinking?
    – ChrisR
    Oct 7, 2013 at 10:04

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