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Revising TV Ads To Relay Anti-Smoking Message

In November, the American Cancer Society sets aside a day it calls "The Great American Smokeout". The smokeout is designed to encourage smokers to quit for one day. In addition to the smokeout, researchers have been trying to find a more effective way of discouraging people from using tobacco products. In this report, Carol Pearson looks at the effect of anti-tobacco ads.

Anti-tobacco commercials have been around on television for decades. Their purpose is simple: to encourage people to quit smoking or not ever start.

Some of these ads, directed at young people, use disturbing images or play on their fears of contracting a tobacco-related disease.

Researchers at the University of Missouri looked at how viewers of these ads absorb the message.

Paul Bolls and fellow researcher Glenn Leshner at the University of Missouri studied the effects of repulsive images in the ads watched by young people.

By attaching electrodes to their facial muscles and monitoring their heart rates, they measured their responses.

"The combination of telling individuals that tobacco kills you and trying to intensify that fear with disgust-evoking images backfires," Bolls said.

The study took place at the university laboratory which evaluates the effect that information portrayed in the media has on people.

"What happens in this case I think is that emotional response is increased so much that people actually withdraw from the message, so anything really that occurs after the point at which they withdraw is not going to be remembered."

The researchers found that the viewer's attention and recollection increased when the ad was limited to either a repulsive image or something that evoked fear. Ads that had a combination of both were overwhelming.