The problem with harm reduction messages..

A recent post by Stanton Peele on how negative images of alcohol use might correlate with negative use of alcohol had me thinking about the difficulty in crafting public harm reduction messages in general.

It is difficult to find any positive media images of smoking; almost all feature either stressed unhappy individuals or those suffering ill health. These images emphasize that smoking is risky.

In tobacco harm reduction, we operate on the basis that people are looking for safer alternatives and structure our messages accordingly. But, there are many people who smoke precisely because it is risky. Certainly, we know that the users everyone is worried about, the young, are particularly attracted to risk.

Anti-tobacco activists will often say that youth will be attracted to smokeless tobacco or electronic cigarettes if they were aware of how safe they are, and some say that they already think that and therefore use them. But since we know that youth are risk seeking it makes more sense that stressing the risky aspect of smoking should attract them, and conversely, stressing the comparative safety of the alternatives should make them less desirable.

And it goes beyond the youth. Many adults like to keep a little bit of risk in their lives. They generally do the healthy and safe things but then engage in a little speeding, a little drinking, a little smoking, just to feel alive. A little (or a lot of) risk seems to make one feel special and in the moment. Risk is an escape.

Characterizing a risky behavior as such may in fact then make it more likely. On the other hand, do we really want to send out the message that smoking is harmless? There are still many people who do respond to the health message. They are probably not smoking for the risk but for other reasons. As well, if there is one imperative we follow, it is to be truthful about the health effects of behaviors.

The good thing is that we have real life to educate us. Rather than formulated one dimensional media images of dangerous smoking or drunk driving accidents, we have access to an information flow which delivers the full range of effects. We have occasional happy and healthy smokers to contrast with old grey folks coughing their lungs out. We have friends sitting around dinner tables happily drinking wine and we have the drunk passed out in his front yard.

The world around you delivers much deeper harm reduction messages than any public service message.

-PLB

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4 thoughts on “The problem with harm reduction messages..

  1. Pingback: Ashtray Blog: An Electronic Cigarette Blog» Blog Archive » Risk and Rebellion

  2. Do anti smoking actvists think thier positions through at all?? You state here that many of them are concerned that teens will be attracted to ecigs if they realize how safe they are,,, pardon me, but that’s insane. I shouldn’t even have to explain why I’m so frustrated with these people. Ok, I can conceed thier point that smoking is harmful, but they want to throw me ,as someone who has found great satisfaction from vaping, under the bus because they think some kids might take up something because it’s safe????

    I’ll tell you,,,, I bet I could get more smokers to quit smoking by explaining what my PV is, than they can by treating them as second class citizens and taxing them into oblivion.

    What better way to get people to quit smoking cigarettes, than safer alternative they enjoy?? Think about it,,,,

  3. Pingback: Bit quiet around here… apologies « Closet Fascination

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