Smoking is one of the leading preventable causes of death and is responsible for the death of more than 480,000 Americans every year.1 To raise awareness of these facts and highlight the severe physiological harm smoking can have on people’s bodies, many advertisements include motifs of death, such as coffins, skulls, graveyards, and guns. This approach is similar to the tactic of portraying grotesque images of bodily harm caused by short-term and long-term smoking because both emphasize the deterioration of health; however, portraying death as an effect of smoking as opposed to, for example, premature aging, is much more dramatic.
Therefore, some research proves that youth may ridicule and ignore these messages, since they do not have the same perception of death that adults have.2 However, one study found that non-death and death appeals were both equally recalled by youth participants and “that young people showed a greater response than older people to death threat appeals, suggesting that death appeals are effective at reaching young people.”2
There is also a debate regarding the effectiveness of social, fear appeals versus that of death appeals because some research shows that the latter generates a negative emotional response that can lower smoking intent.3
More recently, the CDC’s approach for its Tips From Former Smokers campaign has been to focus “on the effects of smoking-related disease rather than the risk of death,” and this campaign has been successful in persuading at least 100,000 people to quit smoking, so it may be a better idea for public health agencies to focus on diseases caused by smoking instead of death.4