Although it is often difficult to measure the actual effect of TV ads on consumers, a recent survey suggests that anti-smoking commercials played a significant role in helping successful former smokers quit the potentially deadly habit.
The findings, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, show that a group of former smokers from Massachusetts said television advertisements helped them significantly in making it past the first 6 months of their struggle.
Of those surveyed, 91% of the former smokers in 2001 and 2002 said they had seen the ads on television. 30.5% said that the ads were helpful, while only 20.8% said that nicotine replacement therapy helped them get over their nicotine addiction.
According to the Los Angeles Times, those surveyed indicated that the most helpful ads were the ones that depicted the severe health hazards of smoking, or ones that celebrated the emotional and personal gains one receives from quitting smoking, like admiration and love from spouses and family members.
The research team, led by Lois Biener, Ph.D. of the Center for Survey Research at the University of Massachusetts surveyed 787 former smokers picked from a random digit-dial survey of 6,739 Massachusetts residents.
Survey participants were asked to rate the helpfulness of a variety of smoking-cessation aids, including nicotine-replacement therapy, telephone quit lines, Internet smoking-cessation programs, and televised anti-tobacco advertising.
The researchers analyzed 785 responses from former smokers. Of those, 57% were women, 66% were under the age of 45, and more than a third had smoked a pack per day. 86% were non-Hispanic whites, and 60% had more than 12 years of education.
Television ads were found to be the most helpful aids, followed by nicotine replacement. Professional help was the next most helpful anti-smoking aid mentioned by 11.1% of the former smokers.
Self-help programs accounted for 7.8% of the former smokers, while 3.6% said Web-based smoking-cessation programs helped the most.
Telephone quit lines were helpful to less than 1% of the survey participants, significantly lower than the 3% to 5% rate found by other researchers.
The authors noted that the findings were based on participantsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ memory of helpful smoking-cessation methods, which could be biased. It is also likely that many factors combined to make people successful including the high cost of cigarettes, the increased number of smoking bans, and changing social attitudes towards smoking.
Despite other possible factors that may have helped former smokers remain smoke free, the researchers concluded that the study reinforced the recommendation of the National Action Plan for Tobacco Cessation that a mass-media campaign be part of the initiative.
(Sources: LA Times, MedPage Today 2/24/06, American Journal of Preventive Medicine 2006:30 (3): 217-224)