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Are anti-smoking social norms associated with tobacco control mass media campaigns, tax and policy changes? Findings from an Australian serial cross-sectional population study of smokers


Background Anti-smoking social norms are associated with subsequent quitting behaviours. We examined if exposure to tobacco control advertisements and policy changes predict subjective (perceived disapproval of smoking among close family and friends) and internalised injunctive norms (embarrassed about telling others you are a smoker).

Methods A serial cross-sectional population survey of Australian adult smokers (n=6649; 2012 to 2015). Logistic regression analyses examined associations of social norms with exposure to different types of tobacco control advertisements, tax increases and other tobacco control policies, adjusting for key demographic, smoking and media exposure covariates. Interaction analyses examined differences by age and socioeconomic status (SES).

Results Greater past month exposure to predominantly fear-evoking advertisements was associated with increased odds of perceiving disapproval (per 1000 gross rating points: adjusted OR (AOR) 2.69, 95% CI: 1.34 to 5.39), while exposure to advertisements evoking multiple negative emotions (fear, guilt, sadness) reduced perceived disapproval (AOR 0.61, 95% CI: 0.42 to 0.87). Increased perceived disapproval was also associated with anticipation (AOR 1.38, 95% CI: 1.02 to 1.88), and implementation of a series of annual 12.5% tobacco tax rises (AOR 1.41, 95% CI: 1.03 to 1.94). Associations were consistent across age and SES. There were no associations nor subgroup interactions between advertisement exposure or policy changes and feeling embarrassed about telling others you are a smoker.

Conclusion Smokers’ perceptions of family and friends’ disapproval of their smoking was more common after exposure to fear-evoking tobacco control campaigns and after large tobacco tax increases were announced and implemented.

  • tobacco control advertisements
  • tobacco control policy changes
  • tax
  • social norms
  • population survey
  • socio-economic status
  • age groups

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