Tuesday, April 23 2002
Thank you Lois for accepting our rendez-vous. May I ask you to introduce yourself ?
Lois Biener: Thanks for the invitation to rendez-vous. I am a social psychologist by training. I've been working on tobacco control for too long now, since 1984. It seems to be an evolving science though, so it does keep me interested.
Since 1993 I've been directing the population-based surveys of adults and youth in Massachusetts to monitor reactions to the Massachusetts Tobacco Control Program. I've been particularly interested in the impact of mass media on tobacco related attitudes and behaviors.
Q1. In an article published in the March 2002 issue of Tobacco Control, you assert "the continuing importance of emotion in tobacco control campaigns" in response to what some consider "the limitations of fear messages". Do we know what works?
Lois Biener: As we say in that article, our research with representative populations indicates that anti-tobacco ads which evoke high levels of negative emotion are rated as more effective than those which evoke low levels of emotion or evoke positive emotion such as humor or gaiety. Being unable in real life to restrict people's exposure to ads of a specific type makes it difficult to control the approach and compare the ability of differing approaches to produce behavior changes. However, when we asked people who reported quitting smoking in the past two years whether anything they saw on TV played a role in their decision to quit, about one-third of them said yes, and when asked to describe what it was that they had seen, the majority of them described one of the emotional ads portraying the real personal loss due to smoking.
Q2. I have read that because of budget cuts the anti-smoking media campaign in Massachusetts has stopped. Can you tell us what is the situation now? What impact do you think such an interruption could have? How important is it to have a continuing on going campaign?
Lois Biener: I think that we will see a slowing of our decline in smoking prevalence and perhaps a reduction in the rate of success among those who do make a quit attempt. California researchers have documented such an effect during the time that their governor shut off their media campaign. I think it is very important to keep high volume antismoking campaigns ongoing as long as we have high volume pro-tobacco marketing to counteract.
Q3. Many people think and argue: "people know about the risks of tobacco". On the other hand other studies and surveys show this knowledge is quite superficial and limited. The recent research produced by Joe diFranza underlines how fast young smokers can become addicted. What is your assessment about this knowledge of the risks?
Lois Biener: I think the knowledge of risks is intellectual, theoretical, at best. What advertising can and should do, is make this knowledge personal - but getting people to realize that it could happen to them. The ads that work best are those which elicit an emotional reaction from the viewer -- they arouse a feeling which is a very personal experience. I think that's why they work.
Q4. The tobacco industry is spending billions in advertising and promotion: no budget cuts on their side! Have you identified new tactics, new trends in their marketing efforts?
Lois Biener: They are doing an enormous amount of promotion in bars, clubs, and music events -- directly targeting of young adults with mailed coupons and free samples. I fear this may be a very effective approach.
Q5. You mention that the Massachusetts TV ads most frequently quoted by recent quitters as being helpful were the ads featuring Pam Laffin (who developed emphysema very young), Rick Stoddard (whose wife died of lung cancer at 46) and the ad in which a man places a photograph of his daughter as a reminder of why he should quit. Has similar evaluation taken place in other states? Do they confirm the efficacy of the Massachusetts strategy "real people, real stories"?
Lois Biener: The closest thing I've seen is research by TRU (Teen Research Unlimited) which used focus groups of teenagers and came up with a similar conclusion. Melanie Wakefield has been having teenagers rate ads of different types. She labels her results differently, but my impression is that she finds the same thing we do in Massachusetts.
Thank you Lois for taking the time to be with us today.