Lynley Bilby

Lynley Bilby is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

New strategy: Tell smokers they stink

Hitting their vanity may be the best way to get them to quit.

Feke Valu is not put off smoking by pictures of diseased organs but would consider quitting over the smell. Photo / Doug Sherring
Feke Valu is not put off smoking by pictures of diseased organs but would consider quitting over the smell. Photo / Doug Sherring

Forget their health, aim at their vanity - research suggests smokers who are told they stink are more likely to quit the habit.

In findings that are to be published in the prestigious Journal of Smoking Cessation, an Auckland University research team reveals insights into the real reasons that prompt smokers to quit and shows how quit campaigns are wide of the mark.

The survey - "Do New Zealand Maori and Pacific walk the talk when it comes to stopping smoking? A qualitative study of motivation to quit" - finds that questioning the personal hygiene of smokers may be a significant motivator.

One of the report's authors, Dr Marewa Glover, said campaigns with the primary purpose of triggering quit attempts should include more emotionally loaded reasons, such as "it stinks".

"It stinks probably has a greater emotional load because it relates to personal hygiene and can be associated with stigma, shame and embarrassment," she said.

This was highly likely to trigger a decision to stop smoking.

Highlighting the lingering unpleasant smell of stale smoke on people could be creatively used in campaigns but it was important not to belittle or alienate smokers, she said.

And this was reinforced by Otago University's Professor Janet Hoek, who said quit results didn't come from making people feel bad about themselves. They had tested photos of smokers with their mouths stuffed full of cigarettes, and these provoked a strong negative reaction.

"Young adult smokers are very, very conscious that they smell after they've had a cigarette and they will engage in all sorts of behaviours to try and mask that. They'll chew gum and use body sprays."

Other findings in the Auckland research were that personal sickness or, children getting sick because of second-hand smoke, were other emotional pulls likely to be more effective at getting Maori and Pacific Islanders to stop smoking.

The findings seem to fit the thinking of Mangere salesman Feke Valu, 21, who, by his own admission, is a heavy smoker.

It's a habit he started when he was 15 and he said the graphic images of diseased organs on the back of cigarette packs weren't putting him off. But he said he noticed the smell of smoke after he'd had a cigarette and would chew gum or spray perfume to mask it from others.

"If someone close to me tells me I stink, then I'd consider stopping smoking."

So far that hasn't happened.

- Herald on Sunday

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