264083 Are fear appeals an effective tool to discourage smokers from using smokeless tobacco?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012 : 4:45 PM - 5:00 PM

Lyudmila Popova, PhD , Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA
Pamela Ling, MD, MPH , Division of General Internal Medicine, Department of Medicine, Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA
Background: Fear appeals are a common strategy used in messages for tobacco prevention and cessation. The Extended Parallel Process Model is a newer theory explaining why fear appeals sometimes fail and sometimes succeed. This paper tests the EPPM propositions with anti-smokeless tobacco messages. Method: Online experiment with a nationally representative sample of 1,826 smokers randomly exposed to one of six anti-smokeless print ads followed by a smokeless ad. Before exposure, perceptions of threat (severity and susceptibility) and efficacy were measured and respondents were classified into four groups based on high/low values of threat and efficacy. Results: Fear appeals were effective in the high threat/high efficacy group: greater fear was associated with less openness to try smokeless tobacco. However, fear appeals backfired in the low threat/low efficacy group where reporting fear responses was correlated with perceived message exaggeration and manipulative intent (fear control responses). In the low/low group, perceived severity of the threat decreased positive attitudes about smokeless tobacco, but perceived susceptibility to health threats resulted in greater fear control responses. There were no differences by type of ad, level of fear felt, or perceived threat in the low threat/high efficacy and high threat/low efficacy groups. Discussion: Fear appeals are effective for smokers who already perceive smokeless tobacco as hazardous and who believe they are able to stay away from it. However, for the most at-risk group (smokers who do not think it is a hazard and do not think they can avoid using it), fear appeals might be counterproductive.

Learning Areas:
Communication and informatics
Planning of health education strategies, interventions, and programs
Social and behavioral sciences

Learning Objectives:
Evaluate current perceptions of threat and efficacy among smokers. Describe tailoring fear appeal messages to the target audience based on their perceptions of threat and efficacy.

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have a peer-reviewed publication on the use of fear appeals in changing health behavior. I a PhD in Communication and as a postdoctoral fellow at the UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, my research interests lie in smokeless tobacco use, its relationship to tobacco cessation, and marketing of smokeless tobacco.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.