The BPS Research Digest blog reports that those dire health warnings on cigarette packs may actually drive some people to smoke. Psychologists interviewed 39 student smokers about the importance of smoking to their self-esteem. The students were then divided into two groups and shown two different sets of cigarette packs — one set with death-related health warnings and one with death-neutral warnings.
Among students who consider smoking important to their self-esteem, those who viewed the death-related warnings reported more positive attitudes toward smoking than students who viewed the death-neutral warnings. “In other words, for smokers who derive a self-esteem boost from smoking — perhaps they see it as a key part of their identity or they think it makes them look cool — a death-related cigarette packet warning can have the ironic effect of making them want to smoke more, so as to buffer themselves against the depressing reminder of their own mortality.”