New Delhi: Countries around the world try to reduce smoking through health warnings about cigarette consumption. While there has been a great deal of progress with respect to warnings about tobacco products, their impact on the consumption of tobacco products has not been conclusive.
A study by Johanna Catherine Maclean and others published by the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that more than the content of the advisory, the source of the information is critical in determining the demand for cigarettes. To show this, the authors conducted a nationally representative online survey of adult smokers between the ages of 18 and 64 in the months of April and May 2017 in the US.
The experiment was constructed to provide advisories on the relatively less harmful effects of e-cigarettes compared to regular cigarettes. The advisory was delivered through three sources: the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a fictitious private e-cigarette company created by the authors, and physicians.
The authors found that only the warning message delivered by the private e-cigarette company led to a significant increase in e-cigarette consumption over a 30-day period.
The authors acknowledge that the results are counter-intuitive. Respondents seemingly trust private companies more than credible sources of information such as the government agency and physicians. One reason for this, the authors argue, could be the general distrust in science and government from segments of the US population.
More generally, the findings imply that, along with the content of the message, the messenger or the conveyor of the information is crucial in influencing the intention to use and risk perceptions about tobacco products.
Read: Information source and cigarettes: experimental evidence on the messenger effect