Smoking Prevention: The Impact of Shock and Sap Appeal

By Nickols-Richardson, Sharon M. | Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, November 2002 | Go to article overview

Smoking Prevention: The Impact of Shock and Sap Appeal


Nickols-Richardson, Sharon M., Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences


Earlier this year, two media releases summarized the heartening evidence that organizations which advocate the merits of smoking prevention among our nation's youth have made headway in preventing smoking. The first release from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicated that the percentage of current smokers in grades 9 through 12 dropped by ~22% since 1997 (CDC, 2002a). Additional data from the 2001 Youth Risk Behavior Survey revealed an ~9% decline in the number of high school students who had ever smoked a cigarette since 1999 (CDC, 2002a).

The American Legacy Foundation, sponsor of Legacy's truth(sm) campaign, completed telephone surveys with 12- to 24-- year-olds and found that positive attitudes related to personal smoking prevention efforts increased by ~15% (American Public Health Association, 2002). Moreover, the desire to take action against cigarette smoking increased in these teenagers and young adults by ~21 % during a 10-month period (American Public Health Association, 2002). The CDC and The American Legacy Foundation attribute these positive changes, in part, to the introduction of widespread media campaigns intended to convey the shocking truth about cigarette smoking and to the increased cost of cigarettes since 1997 (American Legacy Foundation, 2002; Farrelly et al., 2002; CDC, 2002b).

Although some individuals may be disturbed by the Legacy's truth(sm) campaign, which includes, for example, television advertisements in which >1,000 filled body bags are left on the sidewalk in front of an unnamed cigarette conglomerate's office building, research shows that these commercials with "shock appeal" achieve their intended goal (American Legacy Foundation, 2002; Farrelly et al., 2002). Cigarette smoking rates among our nation's teenagers have decreased (CDC, 2002b). Health communication and marketing research indicates that effective antismoking advertisements and campaigns use fear, chronic health problems, and economic consequences (shock appeal) to reach teenagers and young adults (Choi et al., 2002; Pinilla et al., 2002; Siegel, 1998). In contrast, cartoons, catchy buzzwords, and humor (sap appeal) are effective among younger children (Beaudoin, 2002; Fischer et al., 1991). Successful anti-smoking campaigns include candid messages regarding the adverse effects of secondhand smoke and the cigarette industry's targeted manipulation of children and teenagers (Goldman & Glantz 1998).

Resource materials and programs to prevent cigarette smoking in individual teenagers and children are available through the organizations listed in Table 1. Selection of the shock or sap approach to teaching an individual about smoking prevention depends largely on the development of the individual. Much of the antismoking materials are targeted for teenagers, but as smoking the first cigarette occurs at 13 years of age, on average, children should be exposed to antismoking messages as well.

Smoking by parents, older siblings, or a best friend increases the likelihood that a teenager or child will begin smoking cigarettes (Pinilla et al., 2002). Parents who smoke need to make efforts to quit, and all parents can take advantage of local resources that provide parenting workshops containing antismoking content. Within the family context, distinguish "bad habits" from "bad people" so that young children, in particular, understand that smoking is a bad habit performed by a good person, such as a parent. Modeling of healthy behaviors by all members of the family is crucial as is a continual dialogue about healthy lifestyle habits (Andersen et al., 2002; Sargent & Dalton, 2001).

Schools present an opportune community environment in which to disseminate antismoking messages, materials, and campaigns. The social, health, and economic costs of cigarette smoking can be woven into the curriculum of numerous courses-family and consumer sciences, sociology, psychology, social studies, physiology, biology, health education, physical education, economics, math, and business education. …

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