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Pictorial health warnings on cigarette packs create aversive emotional reactions to smoking and induce thoughts about quitting; however, contrary to models of health behavior change, they do not appear to alter intentions to quit smoking. We propose and test a novel model of intention to quit an addictive habit such as smoking (the efficacy-desire model) that can explain this paradoxical effect. At the core of the model is the prediction that self-efficacy and desire to quit an addictive habit are inversely related. We tested the model in an online experiment that randomly exposed smokers (N = 3297) to a cigarette pack with one of three increasing levels of warning intensity. The results supported the model’s prediction that despite the effects of warnings on aversion to smoking, intention to quit smoking is an inverted U-shape function of the smoker’s self-efficacy for quitting. In addition, smokers with greater (lesser) quit efficacy relative to smoking efficacy increase (decrease) intentions to quit. The findings show that previous failures to observe effects of pictorial warning labels on quit intentions can be explained by the contradictory individual differences that warnings produce. Thus, the model explains the paradoxical finding that quit intentions do not change at the population level, even though smokers recognize the implications of warnings. The model suggests that pictorial warnings are effective for smokers with stronger quit-efficacy beliefs and provides guidance for how cigarette warnings and tobacco control strategies can be designed to help smokers quit.
© 2013 Romer et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
Romer, D., Peters, E., Strasser, A. A., & Langleben, D. D. (2013). Desire Versus Efficacy in Smokers’ Paradoxical Reactions to Pictorial Health Warnings for Cigarettes. PLoS ONE, 8 (1), e54937. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0054937
Date Posted: 11 July 2014
This document has been peer reviewed.