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Health SA Gesondheid (Online)

On-line version ISSN 2071-9736
Print version ISSN 1025-9848


LYNCH, Ingrid; DE BRUIN, Lauren M.; CASSIMJEE, Nafisa  and  WAGNER, Claire. A qualitative investigation of south african cigarette smokers’ perceptions of fear appeal messages in anti-smoking advertising. Health SA Gesondheid (Online) [online]. 2009, vol.14, n.1, pp.13-19. ISSN 2071-9736.

Cigarette smoking continues to pose a global health risk, including in developing countries. Fear appeal messages have been widely employed in health communication to reduce cigarette smoking, but studies provide conflicting results on their efficacy. The present qualitative study explores smokers' perceptions of fear appeal messages used in anti-smoking advertising. Focus group discussions were conducted with male and female smokers from Gauteng. A thematic analysis found that participants negatively viewed advertisements that use unrealistic images and failed to relate to the message portrayed. Information about the risks associated with smoking was perceived as patronising and as positioning smokers as ignorant and unintelligent. In addition, fear appeal messages that only focus on long-term consequences of smoking were perceived as ineffective. Participants failed to identify with content that solely relied on factual information at the expense of an emotive appeal. The findings suggest that anti-smoking communication could benefit from content that evokes shock without sacrificing realism, that it should include information about shortterm and immediately visible consequences of smoking and that it should avoid negative depictions of smokers that alienate them from the message being portrayed.

Keywords : fear appeal; perceptions of health risk; health communication; smoking; qualitative analysis.

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