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Are anti-smoking advertisements actually promoting smoking through use of reverse psychology?

Most people agree that tobacco is harmful to health, but many people still smoke (see Wikipedia statistics). Many drugs such as heroin are illegal but still taken by a significant number of users (see a recent Guardian story on UK consumption).

Governments seem to believe that scaring people about the degree of harm they will experience is an effective technique to reduce consumption of substances harmful to health (legal or illegal). For some recent advertising see here, and an interesting collection here.

It seems "obvious" that scaring people should be an effective technique here. But the effectiveness has been questioned (see US story reported by USA Today or the UK story reported by the Guardian). And skeptics don't just accept the obvious, we want to see evidence.

So, my question is simple: do scare tactics work to discourage use of harmful things in today's world?

NB I think it will be important to be clear about the context. I suspect that scare tactics do work on some people, so, when we didn't have a clear idea of how bad tobacco is for health I suspect many people would have stopped smoking when the evidence of harm arrived. The question is about now: it is hard to imagine that any smoker (or drug user) is delusional enough to deny the harms of their habit. So is there any evidence that their consumption will be reduced further by scare tactics?

  • I'm closing this as a duplicate, but the other question doesn't focus on scare tactics, just anti-smoking adverts in general. If you feel it doesn't address your question, I apologise. Flag it and we can edit this question to focus on the missing pieces.
    – Oddthinking
    Nov 27 '11 at 22:35
  • @Oddthinking I must admit to missing the other question. But, it might be possible to rescue my one by focussing on the scare tactics aspect. I'm sure there are effective techniques of anti-smoking or anti-drug campaigns, but the claim is whether inducing fear is effective. If you see any good way to make that distinction from the previous question, I'd like to see them.
    – matt_black
    Nov 27 '11 at 22:49
  • Please provide a real claim that such scare tactics are meant to work as you say! Is anybody actually claiming that these ads should prevent usage, for example? Should they be as effective as you imply or are you inadvertently building a straw man?
    – Sklivvz
    Nov 28 '11 at 9:01
  • @Sklivvz I was assuming that the fact our governments typically spend significant money on these campaigns would suggest that some people believe they work. I think it would be a little machiavellian to suggest a different motive on their part.
    – matt_black
    Nov 28 '11 at 11:17
  • @matt_black: well, what if they are meant to work in the long term? or work by discouraging people from starting, instead of making people stop? You may be looking at the wrong metric.
    – Sklivvz
    Nov 28 '11 at 12:00

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