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Industry sponsored anti-smoking ads and adolescent reactance: test of a boomerang effect


Objective: To examine whether adolescents’ exposure to youth smoking prevention ads sponsored by tobacco companies promotes intentions to smoke, curiosity about smoking, and positive attitudes toward the tobacco industry.

Design: A randomised controlled experiment compared adolescents’ responses to five smoking prevention ads sponsored by a tobacco company (Philip Morris or Lorillard), or to five smoking prevention ads sponsored by a non-profit organisation (the American Legacy Foundation), or to five ads about preventing drunk driving.

Setting: A large public high school in California’s central valley.

Subjects: A convenience sample of 9th and 10th graders (n  =  832) ages 14–17 years.

Main outcome measures: Perceptions of ad effectiveness, intention to smoke, and attitudes toward tobacco companies measured immediately after exposure.

Results: As predicted, adolescents rated Philip Morris and Lorillard ads less favourably than the other youth smoking prevention ads. Adolescents’ intention to smoke did not differ as a function of ad exposure. However, exposure to Philip Morris and Lorillard ads engendered more favourable attitudes toward tobacco companies.

Conclusions: This study demonstrates that industry sponsored anti-smoking ads do more to promote corporate image than to prevent youth smoking. By cultivating public opinion that is more sympathetic toward tobacco companies, the effect of such advertising is likely to be more harmful than helpful to youth.

  • HRS, Hong reactance scale
  • TRS, therapeutic reactance scale
  • advertising
  • adolescents
  • reactance
  • tobacco industry

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