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Death Warnings May Actually Encourage Smokers

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Warning smokers that cigarettes can kill them could backfire as a prevention strategy, according to researchers who said that other types of warning messages could be more effective for somesmokers.

Reuters reported Dec. 9 that researchers said that individuals who smoke to boost their self-esteem — notably younger smokers — may actually be attracted, not repelled, by death warnings.

“In general, when smokers are faced with death-related antismoking messages on cigarette packs, they produce active coping attempts as reflected in their willingness to continue the risky smoking behavior,” according to a study on a small group of psychology students ages 17-41. “To succeed with antismoking messages on cigarette packs one has to take into account that considering their death may make people smoke.”

Warnings like “smoking makes you unattractive” or “smoking brings you and the people around you severe damage” might have more preventive value with certain populations, the study said.

The research appears in the January 2010 issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

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