A new RAND corporation study of college students finds that increased intention to smoke after being exposed to a single pro-smoking media message can persist for a week.
The study, titled Quantifying the Persistence of Pro-Smoking Media Effects on College Students’ Smoking Risk, is the first to try and put a number on the lasting effect that cigarette advertising and pro-smoking messages has on consumers.
In a recent online issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health, co-author Dr. Steven Martino, a psychologist at the nonprofit research organization RAND, and colleagues, suggest their findings offer key messages for policymakers responsible for curbing tobacco advertising and discouraging young people from taking up smoking.
Dr. Martino says they were surprised by how long the influence of the pro-smoking messages persisted:
“The results suggest that positive media messages about smoking are likely to influence behavior even if opportunities to smoke occur infrequently,” he argues.
For the study, the researchers recruited 134 Pittsburgh college students aged from 18 to 24 and asked them to record their exposure to pro-smoking media messages as they went about their normal lives over a three-week period.
They gave the students, who included regular smokers, non-smokers and occasional smokers, hand-held devices so they could document their exposures and reactions easily.
Whenever they documented an exposure event, the hand-held device asked them to answer a number of questions, for instance: “Do you think you will try a cigarette anytime soon?”
The device also prompted them to answer the same questions at other times through the day – not always when they were being exposed to a pro-smoking message.
One pro-smoking media message raises desire by 22% for a week
In this way the study helped the researchers work out how long the effect of being exposed to a pro-smoking message persisted.
The results showed that after exposure to a single pro-smoking message, the average amount by which the intention rose was 22%.
And although this figure dwindled as days without exposure followed, it remained elevated for at least 7 days.
Although the researchers were mainly interested in the effect of single pro-smoking messages, they noted that over the course of the three weeks of data collection, the students reported being exposed to a total of 1,112 pro-smoking messages.
The accumulative effect of one pro-smoking media message after another
Dr. Martino says they suspect a cumulative effect:
“Our findings suggest that exposures that occur before the influence of a prior message ‘wears off’ could cause the risk of smoking to accumulate over the long term. This might explain why exposure to these media messages can have an enduring effect on people’s attitudes and behaviors toward smoking.”
The National Cancer Institute helped fund the study.