Best Way to Get Smokers to Quit: Try a Little Shaming

Unconventional dose of self-consciousness may help people kick a really, really bad habit

Shame can be a powerful motivator — especially for smokers.

And that’s a good thing.

Cigarette smoking causes more than 480,000 deaths in the United States every year — or nearly one in five deaths.

That’s according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Equally worrisome is that smoking harms nearly every organ in the body.

Related: E-Cigarette Use Among Teens May Be Vastly Underestimated

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It leads to more deaths each year than HIV, illegal drug and alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries and fire-arm-related incidents combined.

The devastating effects of smoking are so widespread that cigarettes themselves continue to inspire a parlance of derogatory nicknames, such as “lung darts,” “coffin nails,” and “cancer sticks.”

Overall, smoking among U.S. adults has declined over the years.

Still, nearly 38 million Americans have not kicked the habit, as the CDC reports.

Now, a new study published in The Journal of Consumer Affairs could offer smokers some relief — albeit in the form of an unconventional dose or two of self-consciousness.

All told, how cigarettes are marketed could play a significant role in motivating smokers to alter their behavior, especially if the smokers themselves worry that others see them in a derogatory light because of their bad habit.

“Our results support the notion that packaging [that] conveys to smokers that ‘others’ view smoking negatively is sufficient to trigger feelings of self‐consciousness, which in turn reduces smoking intentions,” reads the study’s abstract.

“This approach is particularly effective in ‘isolated’ smokers who do not see smoking as identity‐relevant or congruent with their social self,” it also says.

Furthermore, “these findings suggest that for a particular segment of the smoking population, the integration of negative social cues on packaging may be an effective complement to current fear‐based appeals.”

Related: Menthol Cigarettes Come Under FDA Scrutiny

“Tobacco denormalization strategies such as workplace and social setting bans have used social pressure as a means of discouraging smoking,” co-author Dr. Jennifer Jeffrey of King’s University College at Western University in Canada told AlphaGalileo, a media service.

“Tobacco denormalization strategies such as workplace and social setting bans have used social pressure as a means of discouraging smoking.”

“Our early research suggests that tobacco packaging itself may be another tool by which to exert similar pressure, especially in those smokers already sensitive to smoking stigma,” she added.

The study is titled “Integrating Negative Social Cues in Tobacco Packaging: A Novel Approach to Discouraging Smokers.”

Share your thoughts on this topic — does shaming work or not?

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Elizabeth Economou is a former CNBC staff writer and adjunct professor. Follow her on Twitter.

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