Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

A qualitative exploration of young adult smokers’ responses to novel tobacco warnings

Janet Hoek*, Anna Hoek-Sims and Philip Gendall

Author affiliations

University of Otago, P O Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand

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Citation and License

BMC Public Health 2013, 13:609  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-609

Published: 25 June 2013

Abstract

Background

Despite reduced smoking among adolescents, smoking prevalence peaks among young adults aged 18–30, many of whom believe themselves exempt from the health risks of smoking shown in warning labels. We explored how young adult smokers perceived warnings featuring proximal risks, and whether these encouraged cessation more effectively than traditional health messages.

Methods

We conducted in-depth interviews with 17 young adult smokers and explored their perceptions of current warnings as well as novel warnings representing short-term health consequences; immediate social risks, and tobacco’s toxicity (denormalizing tobacco as an everyday product). We used a thematic analysis approach to explore how participants rationalized existing warnings and interpreted the novel messages.

Results

Participants considered the immediate social and physiological benefits they gained from smoking outweighed the distal risks shown in health warnings, which they regarded as improbable and irrelevant. Of the novel warnings, those presenting immediate social risks altered the balance of gains and losses young adults associated with smoking; however, those presenting short-term health risks or depicting tobacco as a toxin were less effective.

Conclusions

Participants regarded warnings featuring proximal social risks as more salient and they were less likely to rationalise these as irrelevant. Social risk messages merit further investigation to examine their potential as a complement to traditional health warnings.

Keywords:
Smoking; Young adults; Warning messages; Temporal construal