Tobacco Control: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

On February 12, 2014, in my blog, An Outlandish Thought[1], I put forward the view that Tobacco Control were trying not to stop, but to encourage people to take up smoking – it would seem that the idea was not as ‘outlandish’ as I first surmised.

 It would seem that there is a large body of academic thought which supports the view that horrific images might actually encourage some smokers to keep smoking, and, some non-smokers to take up the habit, and failing that, the images might be ignored altogether.

 As far back as 1953, psychologists were looking at the effect of fear in advertising[2]. The results of their investigations were not as you or I would expect.  The model which was being presented at that time is known as “The Drive Model.” Part of this model argues that,”… when individuals are presented with threatening information they will be motivated to search for responses that reduce the threat. When a response reduces fear, it is reinforced and becomes part of one’s permanent response repertory. The drive model therefore suggests that higher fear should result in more persuasion, but only if the recommended action is perceived as effective in averting danger.” (Janis, I. L., & Feshbach, S)

 Take a close look at the end of the quote, “…but only if the recommended action is perceived as averting danger.” This is a theme which has been continued as the decades roll by.   Following the Drive Model was the Parallel Response model (1970) which suggests that fear appeals produce two separate and potentially interdependent processes: danger control processes (efforts to control the threat/danger) and fear control processes (efforts to control one’s fear about the threat/danger)[3] And once again we find that with the horrific message, the way which one turns is decided by the efficiency of the recommendations for avoiding the danger.

  As the years passed, the idea was further and further refined; the SEU models, including, Rogers’s Protection Motivation Theory (PMT)[4]. This attempted to explain the effect of fear and when it works, however the PMT model fails to explain why it does not work. PMT and SEU[5] models deal, in the main, with high threat coupled to high efficacy of the recommendations to avert the danger – but what happens if the perceived threat is low?  What happens if the perceived efficiency of suggested measures to avoid the threat is low?

 But first, a word about the difference between threat and fear, it is assumed that when faced with a threat, fear will follow. This, it is assumed, will result in an action to avoid the threat. And this is the logic SEEMINGLY being followed by advocates of warnings and graphic images on cigarette packs. They say that the fear induced by the images and warnings will encourage people to stop or never start smoking.  However, this is not the way it works. It is true that action will follow on from a threat which induces fear, but what will be the nature of the action?

 Take the graphic warnings being issued on cigarette packs. In this instance there are two distinct groups who react to these images and warnings. Young people, both smokers and never-smokers and, older established smokers.

 What happens when a young smoker, or would be smoker, sees a horrific image on a cigarette pack? The answer, as far as avoiding cigarettes, is nothing very much at all. Why? The image does not induce fear. Why?  The threat event is too far away. It is, to the mind of a young person, very remote – it can be ignored. Perhaps this explains why horrific images are being found to be so ineffective. Perhaps this is why the uptake of cigarette smoking among the young remains so high. A month is a lifetime to many youngsters, so how long is ten or twenty, how long is thirty or forty years away? How far away is, ‘if at all?’

And with established smokers the effect is different but with a similar result Take note that “…the more one is defensively resisting a recommendation the less one is making appropriate changes in line with the message’s recommendations[6].” And, “…that messages that fail to make people believe the recommended response is effective and/or that they are able to perform the recommended response produce stronger fear control/defensive response[7].” I hear an echo reaching me from 1953… listen carefully, does it say, wait for it “…but only if the recommended action is perceived as effective in averting danger.”

 The Meta analysis of Fear Appeals: Implications for Effective Public Health Campaigns, (Kim Witte, PhD Mike Allen, PhD) sums things up rather nicely:” In sum, fear appeals appear to be effective when they depict a significant and relevant threat and when they outline effective responses that appear easy to accomplish. Low threat appeals appear to produce very little, if any, persuasive effects. Thus, regardless of which theoretical model is advocated, the advice to message designers is the same: a persuader should promote high levels of threat and a high level of efficacy to promote attitude, intention and behaviour changes.”

 So look at the gruesome image on the packet. Read the warning, “Smoking Kills.” And now look at the recommended action… Sorry, I will reword that statement, look FOR the recommended action – No, I do not see one. Ok, so it is implied, ‘stop smoking.’  Will that be perceived as ‘effective’ advice?  Well, maybe effective if it was within some range of possibility, but is it? Even the best reported results for quit attempts is hardly 10% – so the messages (implied) recommended action, in practical terms is, 90% fail. Not good. Not effective, so other defence mechanisms kick in.

 What are they?

 They might, scrutinize the message to find ways to criticize and downplay the information in order to reduce the threat. They might, engage in a biased search for inconsistencies, and evaluate the evidence with a bias in the direction of their preferred conclusion.  And always, the spectre of another failed attempt to follow the recommended action: ‘stop smoking.’

 So the young see the threat as being something in the distance, something that can be dealt with later – the threat level is low. Adult smokers despair at the recommended action, and although the messages and images may create fear, the recommendations are not realistic, the efficacy is low, and so denial takes place.

 Messages and images have only a very limited impact in smoking cessation.

 The same holds true for plain packaging and for hiding cigarette products out of sight. In fact, these actions can be seen to be an attraction for young people – a reason to start smoking, not resist.

 There is a mass of information on the psychology of the attraction of the unknown. Couple this phenomenon to the advertised (low) threat value of cigarette smoking  to locking cigarettes out of sight, and a large percentage of young people will find the allure that has been created, irresistible.

 But what is worse – I believe that Tobacco Control is aware of all of the above.

 How would they know?

 The answer is a very simple one. A very large proportion of the psychology of fear appeals, and communications, and attitude change are written for the advertising industry.  This includes the health advocates who use this particular advertising to create the effect they desire. Now, we encounter a slight problem. What exactly is the effect they desire? If they are not aware of the effects of presenting warnings without effective avoidance strategies, they are negligent. If they are aware that warnings and gruesome images, that hiding cigarettes out of sight will have no effect, and indeed be an attraction – they are culpable.

 I choose to think it is deliberate. Tobacco Control is expert at marketing. It, I believe, knows the psychology involved inside and out. Whole university departments give ‘expert’ advice on a continuous level. Why, even one prominent Tobacco Control advocate has a PhD in the subject.[8] I wonder how many millions have been spent by the various Tobacco Control groups looking into this very topic.

 But the main reason I see Tobacco Control as a wolf in sheep’s clothing has nothing to do with the above. It is simply this…

 They have fought tooth and nail against the development of e cigarettes and personal vaporizers. They have consistently argued for the over-regulation of harm reduction products. Why would any group which purports to be acting in the interest of people’s health which to stymy, to destroy a product which will save many millions of lives? And to me, again, the answer is simple. It is against their interests to see this happen. For whatever reason, I think, it is important for them to keep their respective positions, be it an organisation or individual within an organisation. It is power, it is money, it is prestige and position, and all of these are up for the taking – as long as a percentage of people continue smoking: As long as it never become known how duplicitous their activities really are.  



[2] Janis, I. L., & Feshbach, S. (1953): Effects of Fear-Arousing Communications. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 48, 78–92

[3] Leventhal H: Findings and theory in the study of fear communications, in Berkowitz L (ed.): Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (Vol. 5): New York, Academic Press, 1970, pp.119-186

[4] Rogers RW: A protection motivation theory of fear appeals and attitude change. J Psych 91:93-114, 1975.

Rogers RW: Cognitive and physiological processes in fear appeals and attitude change: A revised theory of protection motivation, in Cacioppo J, Petty R (eds.): Social Psychophysiology: New York, Guilford Press, 1983, pp. 153-176

[5] Sutton SR: Fear-arousing communications: A critical examination of theory and research, in Eiser JR (ed.): Social Psychology and Behavioural Medicine. London: Wiley, 1982, pp.303-337.



[8] Simon Chapman His PhD looked into the relationship between cigarette smoke and advertising.

14 thoughts on “Tobacco Control: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

  1. Ray Yeates says:

    lol…Great article as usual Robert. However, I personaly had opportunity to attend classes once upon a time ; in my prime……psychology ….101 being a good place to start. I managed to pass the first year of a 3 year program but halfway through the second I conceded and switched courses towards technology…. I discovered my forte was best suited here behind my keyboard investigating this mechanical device type filing cabinet that most folks at the time were in fear the milenum would mark it’s end. The masses scrambled to find a remedy. Seeds were planted. Sales in token tools and data prevailed as the bobble headed Bill Gates lectured onto the masses. ” We are working diligently on a solution ” The Fortune 500 joined in. There was almost enough confidence restored , although most were very cautious seeing as industry should have figured this out before it happened. Honestly that was the state of our education at that time. We even happened upon many classes bearing only a monitor when we entered. Hit the switch and learn. Not unlike instant noodles.

    Oh , I’m sorry Robert…..I did say however. It’s simple actually. Like the modern teacher….. if you desensitize (note) ….. the masses you can get them to hit the switch on or off themselves.. 🙂

    note: There are fools among us….like the guy who finished class , went straight to work at his kiosk and inspires the notion to turn the clock ahead 2001 then…….. REBOOT! Just because! 🙂


  2. Awesome research…my respect!…and a lot of enlightening!


  3. magnetic01 says:

    That’s an interesting take. But you need to account for the fact that antismoking isn’t a just a recent phenomenon: It has a long history. Secondly, you need to account for the zealot mentality. Moralizing zealotry has a very limited repertoire. Fear and hate-mongering is the usual modus operandus regardless of theories.

    For example, someone has put together “10 Outrageous Claims Made By The Temperance Movement”

    This baseless, highly inflammatory nonsense was pounded into school children by the Department of Scientific Temperance. There was nothing scientific about this department. Moralizing zealots will typically attempt to terrorize others into conformity, the terrorizing claims progressively becoming more absurd and hysterical. Also noteworthy is that the DST was as anti-tobacco as anti-alcohol. Further, the more influential physician-led Eugenics movement was also rabidly anti-tobacco/alcohol, also attempting to terrorize through baseless, inflammatory claims. In both cases there is an exploiting of “appeal to authority” – religious/medical.

    The current antismoking crusade is no exception.

    I’ll post some history on antismoking.


  4. magnetic01 says:

    It’s America that’s popularized antismoking insanity – again, and which other countries are following suit. The problem with Americans is that they are clueless to even their own recent history. America has a terrible history with this sort of “health” fanaticism/zealotry/extremism or “clean living” hysteria – including antismoking – that goes back more than a century.

    Antismoking is not new. It has a long, sordid, 400+ year history, much of it predating even the pretense of a scientific basis or the more recent concoction of secondhand smoke “danger”. Antismoking crusades typically run on inflammatory propaganda, i.e., lies, in order to get law-makers to institute bans. Statistics and causal attribution galore are conjured. The current antismoking rhetoric has all been heard before. All it produces is irrational fear and hatred, discord, enmity, animosity, social division, oppression, and bigotry. One of the two major antismoking (and anti-alcohol, dietary prescriptions/proscriptions, physical exercise) crusades early last century was in America. [The other crusade was in WWII Germany and the two crusades were intimately connected by physician-led eugenics]. The USA has been down this twisted, divisive path before. Consider the following: The bulk of claims made about smoking/tobacco were erroneous, baseless, but highly inflammatory. Unfortunately, the propaganda did its destructive job in the short term, producing mass hysteria or a bigotry bandwagon. When supported by the State, zealots seriously mess with people’s minds on a mass scale.

    Click to access bmj00571-0040.pdf


  5. magnetic01 says:

    Some insight into the connection between American eugenics – California in particular – and German eugenics.


  6. magnetic01 says:

    The current antismoking crusade, very much in the eugenics tradition – involving the same medically-aligned personnel and repugnant methodology, is much like crusades over the previous 400 years. It is a moralizing, social-engineering, eradication/prohibition crusade decided upon in the 1970s by a small, self-installed clique of [medically-oriented] fanatics operating under the auspices of the World Health Organization and sponsored by the American Cancer Society (see the Godber Blueprint ). This little, unelected group, using much the same inflammatory rhetoric of its fanatical predecessors, decided for everyone that tobacco-use should be eradicated from the world – for a “better” (according to them) world. These fanatics were speaking of secondhand smoke “danger” and advocating indoor and OUTDOOR smoking bans years before the first study on SHS and extortionate taxes on tobacco “cost burden” analyses of smoking: In the 1970s, populations – particularly in relatively free societies – weren’t interested in elitist social-engineering, particularly by a group (medically-aligned) that had a horrible recent track record (eugenics). Given that their antismoking crusade would have otherwise stalled, the zealots conjured secondhand smoke “danger” to advance the social-engineering agenda, i.e., inflammatory propaganda. Until only recently the zealots claimed they weren’t doing social engineering, that they weren’t moralizing. Well, that’s a lie that’s been told many times over during the last few decades.

    The zealots’ goal this time is not to ban the sale of tobacco but to ban smoking in essentially all the places that people smoke (combined with extortionate taxes), indoors and out. Up until recently the social-engineering intent has been masqueraded as protecting nonsmokers from secondhand smoke “danger”. But even this fraud can no longer be hidden in that bans are now being instituted for large outdoor areas such as parks, beaches, campuses where there is no demonstrable “health” issue for nonsmokers. This dangerous mix of the medically-aligned attempting social engineering is a throwback to a century ago. We seem to have learned nothing of value from very painful lessons of only the recent past.


  7. magnetic01 says:

    Here’s a brief history of the antismoking madness (Godber Blueprint) over the last few decades.

    The first demand for a smoking ban was in the late-1980s concerning short-haul flights in the USA of less than 2 hours. At the time, the antismokers were asked if this was a “slippery slope” – where would it end? They ridiculed anyone suggesting such because this ban was ALL that they were after.
    Then they ONLY wanted smoking bans on all flights.
    Then the antismokers ONLY wanted nonsmoking sections in restaurants, bars, etc., and ensuring that this was ALL they wanted.
    Then the antismokers ONLY wanted complete bans indoors. That was all they wanted. At the time, no-one was complaining about having to “endure” wisps of smoke outdoors.

    While they pursued indoor bans, the antismokers were happy for smokers to be exiled to the outdoors. Having bulldozed their way into indoor bans, the antismokers then went to work on the outdoors, now declaring that momentary exposure to remnants of smoke in doorways or a whiff outdoors was a “hazard”, more than poor, innocent nonsmokers should have to “endure”.
    Then they ONLY wanted bans within 10 feet of entrance ways.
    Then they ONLY wanted bans within 20 feet of entrance ways.
    Then they ONLY wanted bans in entire outdoor dining areas.
    Then they ONLY wanted bans for entire university and hospital campuses and parks and beaches.
    Then they ONLY wanted bans for apartment balconies.
    Then they ONLY wanted bans for entire apartment (including individual apartments) complexes.

    On top of all of this, there are now instances where smokers are denied employment, denied housing (even the elderly), and denied medical treatment. Smokers in the UK are denied fostering/adoption. Involuntary mental patients are restrained physically or chemically (sedation) or multi-day solitary confinement rather than allow them to have a cigarette – even outside. In some countries there are also compounded extortionate taxes.

    At each point there was a crazed insistence that there was no more to come while they were actually planning the next ban and the brainwashing required to push it. The incessant claim was that they were not doing “social engineering” (prohibition) when the current antismoking crusade has been so from the outset, just like pretty well every previous antismoking crusade. There has been incessant (pathological) lying and deception. Many medically-aligned groups have been committed to antismoking – their smokefree “utopia” – since the 1960s, and are also in the pay of Pharma companies peddling their useless “nicotine replacement” products. They have prostituted their medical authority and integrity to chase ideology (this is exactly what occurred in the eugenics of early last century). All of it is working to a tobacco-extermination plan run by the WHO (dominated by the American “model”) and that most nations are now signed-up to (Framework Convention on Tobacco Control).


  8. magnetic01 says:

    There is one major difference between antismoking of early last century and currently. Early last century a ban on the sale of tobacco was sought by activists a la Prohibition. It doesn’t work. This time it’s a series of “de-normalizing” measures that have been chased, e.g., taxes, bans.

    Tobacco Control is a closed propaganda-machine pushed by ideologically-driven zealots/extremists and their financial partners (e.g., government, Pharma); there are now numerous funded organizations in this corrupt network. In antismoking since the mid-1850s in America, there have been opportunists selling snake oil “cures” for smoking.
    For more, e.g., “smoking cures” from the 1800s, see comments by “mag01” at:
    But they were typically outsiders exploiting the situation. This time, those selling the “cures”, i.e., Pharma, have been the main funders (to the tune of billions of dollars over the last few decades) of antismoking groups peddling inflammatory propaganda and pushing for higher extortionate taxes and more widespread smoking bans. In the cold parlance of marketing, it’s called “cultivating the market”.

    It’s produced what could be called a racket, a scam. By following the advisement (propaganda) of zealots, the government is able to fleece smokers through extortionate taxes. Activists then want their cut of the booty to remain in comfortable employment and further “educate” the public. The more pressure on smokers to quit, the more they are directed to pharmaceutical “cures”, the more Pharma profits from its next-to-useless “nicotine replacement” wares. These three groups that are central to antismoking all profit financially. It’s produced the perverse situation where smokers are forced to pay for their own denormalization/persecution.

    Pharma/Pharma “philanthropy” has pumped billions into antismoking activism – cultivation of the market. Then along came the vaporizer (that only appeals to a small subset of smokers btw). E-cig salesmen thought they could just come in without spending a single cent on smoker “denormalization”, enthusiastically spout the antismoking rhetoric, and nudge in on Gigantic Pharma’s turf. There were those that predicted the Pharma-dominated Public Health response years ago: The e-cig, too, would be targeted to protect Pharma profits.


  9. magnetic01 says:

    Let’s consider the “health warning” Smoking Kills

    All of the evidence against smoking is statistical in nature. There are very definite rules governing how statistical information is disseminated. These rules are routinely violated by antismoking activists. Zealots use a particular, exaggerated, highly-inflammatory language, e.g., “kill”, “death”, “poison”, “toxic”.

    Honestly depicting statistical information doesn’t have sufficient “terrorizing” value for zealots.

    I can point you to a document (see Godber Blueprint) that instructs activists not to use statistical information, but to use such terms as “kill” which go far beyond the implications of the underlying data.

    Working Papers in Support of the 8th World Conference on Tobacco or Health: Building a Tobacco-Free World
    March 30 – April 3, 1992

    Buenos Aires, Argentina
    Use strong direct wording such as
    Smoking kills
    Smoking is addictive
    Smoking causes lung cancer
    Smoking causes heart disease
    Smoking damages your lungs
    Smoking harms the fetus
    Smoking hurts your children
    Don’t use statements that condone any
    form of smoking, imply only a chance
    of contracting disease, or attribute the
    statement to a third party . Don’t use :
    “Don’t smoke too much for health’s sake . ”
    “Smoking may cause
    “According to the government . . . . . “

    Consider skull and crossbones or other
    strong visual displays .


    We’re not dealing with facts here. It’s activism. It’s the production of generalized slogans for terrorizing effect.

    This particular document makes for interesting reading:


  10. magnetic01 says:

    The use of “skull and crossbones” as suggested in this 1992 document was also suggested early last century:

    “….an anti-cigarette activist proposed that each package be stamped with the word “poison” in capital letters above a skull and crossbones.”

    Current antismoking fanatics are just like their predecessors.


  11. […] Harley for Tobacco Control: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing, exploring the psychology of fear in antismoking […]


  12. […] sure that the actions it takes generate maximum publicity while achieving virtually nothing.  it is a symbiotic arrangement which is designed to guarantee the continuance of tobacco smoking, […]


  13. […] quote, “…but only if the recommended action is perceived as averting danger.” This is a theme which was continued as the decades rolled […]


  14. Matthieu says:

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    Liked by 1 person

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