Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

‘It rots you from the inside out’

                The above video is one of the latest in the NHS ‘Stop Smoking Campaign’. I think the majority of people would agree when I say that the advertisement is very off putting and almost makes you want to shield your eyes from the computer screen. The video depicts a man playing in the park with his young family, who then decides to take a cigarette break. He rolls a cigarette, which rather than being filled with tobacco, is being filled with parts of his rotting body. The aim of the advertisement is to bring to life the damage smoking does to your body. The main message of this campaign is that ‘if you could see the rot, you’d stop’. Many people have strongly complained about the vulgarity of this ad campaign, stating that it is not suitable for many viewers and that it would not be effective in stopping smoking; however research shows otherwise!

“I understand they are trying to portray that smoking is horrible and kills you etc, but I'm one of those people who feels sick at the sight of blood and every time I watch this before a video I gag and want to throw up and the first time I watched this I fainted.”

“I don't smoke, but this makes me feel ill... I don't NEED to see this”

                The advertisement uses fear in order to persuade people to stop smoking; nobody would like to envision their bodies rotting. Many studies have shown that fear appeals are an effective technique to change intentions and behaviour. Smith and Stutts (2003) studied the effectiveness of this technique and provide evidence that fear appeals can reduce smoking behaviour. They examined the effects of short-term cosmetic versus long-term health fear appeals on the smoking behaviour of adolescents.  The long-term health fear appeals discussed the dangers of smoking in terms of getting cancer or other long-term health problems. The short-term problems discussed negative social consequences, such as bad breath, smelly hair or yellow teeth. Results showed that long-term health appeals were more effective than short-term cosmetic appeals with regard to an overall decline in smoking among the experimental groups. Table 1 summarizes the results from the experiment. 

             The above table shows that the three experimental conditions (short- term appeals, long-term appeals and combined appeals) all significantly reduced the smoking behaviour of the participants. However, it was the long-term appeals that had the greatest effect; there was strong (0.50) negative correlation between exposure to the long- term appeals and smoking behaviour. The long- term appeals in this study focused on negative health consequences that many people fear (e.g. lung cancer). This indicates that fear appeal is a powerful persuasive tool that can be used to modify smoking behaviour. The research would predict that campaigns focusing on long- term fear appeals, rather than short-term cosmetic appeals would be more efficacious in reducing smoking behaviour and therefore this NHS ‘Stop Smoking’ campaign should be very effective.


Smith, K., & Stutts, M. (2003). Effects of short-term cosmetic versus long-term health fear        appeals in anti-smoking advertisements on the smoking behaviour of adolescents. Journal Of      Consumer Behaviour, 3(2), 157-177. 

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