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Cigarette graphic warning labels increase both risk perceptions and smoking myth endorsement

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Objective: Cigarette graphic warning labels elicit negative emotion, which increases risk perceptions through multiple processes. We examined whether this emotion simultaneously affects motivated cognitions like smoking myth endorsement (e.g. ‘exercise can undo the negative effects of smoking’) and perceptions of cigarette danger versus other products.

Design: 736 adult and 469 teen smokers/vulnerable smokers viewed one of three warning label types (text-only, low emotion graphic or high emotion graphic) four times over two weeks.

Main outcome measures: Emotional reactions to the warnings were reported during the first and fourth exposures. Participants reported how often they considered the warnings, smoking myth endorsement, risk perceptions and perceptions of cigarette danger relative to smokeless tobacco and electronic cigarettes.

Results: In structural equation models, emotional reactions influenced risk perceptions and smoking myth endorsement through two processes. Emotion acted as information about risk, directly increasing smoking risk perceptions and decreasing smoking myth endorsement. Emotion also acted as a spotlight, motivating consideration of the warning information. Warning consideration increased risk perceptions, but also increased smoking myth endorsement. Emotional reactions to warnings decreased perceptions of cigarette danger relative to other products.

Conclusions: Emotional reactions to cigarette warnings increase smoking risk perceptions, but also smoking myth endorsement and misperceptions that cigarettes are less dangerous than potentially harm-reducing tobacco products.
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Keywords: emotions; risk perceptions; smoking myths; tobacco control

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Psychology, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, USA 2: College of Public Health, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, USA

Publication date: February 1, 2018

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