The emotional impact of European tobacco-warning images

The emotional impact of the tobacco-warning images proposed by the European Commission to reduce tobacco consumption is evaluated in the context of the International Affective Picture System, a well-established procedure for investigating appetitive (approach) and defensive (avoidance) motivational tendencies evoked by images.

marlboro Smoking Man

A man lighting up a Marlboro cigarette

In a cross-sectional study, 597 healthy male and female volunteers (from the University of Granada, the University of Balearic Islands and four different schools of Valencia and Balearic Islands) distributed in six age groups (13–14, 15–16, 17–18, 19–20, 21–22 and over 23 years old) and four smoking status groups (non-smokers, one-time smokers, occasional smokers and heavy smokers) rated their emotional responses to 35 European tobacco-warning images together with 42 pleasant and 42 unpleasant International Affective Picture System pictures using the valence and arousal scales of the Self-Assessment Manikin.

The results of the study indicate that the majority of the tobacco-warning images (83%) were distributed within the unpleasant space and ranged from moderately unpleasant to very unpleasant. However, a small but significant number of images (17%) were also distributed within the pleasant space, ranging from moderately pleasant to very pleasant. Only four unpleasant pictures were rated as highly arousing (11.4%). Women, the older age groups (over 17 years old), and occasional smokers evaluated these images as significantly more arousing than the other groups.

Findings suggest that the capability of the European tobacco-warning images to prompt negative attitudes to reduce tobacco consumption might not extend to the general population but would be limited to specific target groups.

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