More Than One Kind of Message May Convince Smokers to Quit, Study Says

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WEDNESDAY, Sept. 17, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Positive messages about the health benefits of quitting smoking may help some people kick the habit, a new study suggests.

Although smokers who think quitting will be difficult responded better to "loss-framed" messages about the harmful effects of smoking, researchers found smokers who believe they can quit whenever they want benefit more from "gain-framed," or positive, messages about how quitting will improve their health.

The researchers concluded that using a mix of both types of messages might get more people to stop smoking.

"This study shows us that leveraging both gain- and loss-framed messaging may prompt more smokers to quit," lead investigator Darren Mays, a population scientist at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, said in a university news release.

Most tobacco warnings on cigarette packages in the United States and around the world are "loss-framed" messages. The researchers cautioned that these statements may not convince many smokers to quit.

The 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act authorized the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco products. The law also required new picture labels to be posted on the labels of cigarette packs.

However, implementation of this legislation has been delayed by lawsuits from the tobacco industry. Because its nine proposed graphic label warnings were struck down in court in 2012, the FDA is pursuing more research to support these graphic warning label requirements.

The study, published Sept. 15 in Nicotine & Tobacco Research, involved 740 participants. The researchers examined the effects of four images: a man using a device to help him breathe; a healthy lung next to a diseased lung; a man lying on a white sheet with stitches on his chest, and a mouth ravaged by cancer. These images had either "loss-framed" or "gain-framed" messages.

"Gain-framed" messages stressed the health benefits of quitting, such as a reduced risk of death from tobacco. Meanwhile, "loss-framed" messages emphasized negative outcomes from smoking, such as increased risk of death.

The American Cancer Society-supported study found each image was effective. The researchers said their findings could provide additional evidence for new graphic warnings proposed for U.S. cigarette packages.

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

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides more information on ways to quit smoking.