Objective: Anti-smoking PSAs are not always effective in reducing cigarette smoking, and there is a lack of research into mechanisms through which PSAs affect the attitudes and behaviors of viewers. The present research was designed to better understand how smokers and non-smokers process anti-smoking ads.
Design: In a repeated measures design, the accessibility of smokers' (N = 70) and non-smokers' (N = 96) attitudes toward and norms concerning smoking were assessed and then their reactions to four anti-smoking PSAs were measured.
Results: The accessibility of smokers' attitudes toward smoking-how quickly they bring their attitudes to mind-predicted their central processing of ad content, and smokers who counterargued in response to the ads were not persuaded by them. The accessibility of smokers' norms for smoking-how quickly they bring to mind social support for smoking-predicted their peripheral processing of the ads, and imbued resistance to persuasion. In contrast, non-smokers' attitude and norm accessibility were unrelated to ad processing.
Conclusion: These results suggest that anti-smoking ads may have paradoxical effects on smokers and may actually undermine anti-smoking efforts. Furthermore, smokers who can readily access a pro-smoking norm are unlikely to process anti-smoking messages, which may further hinder anti-smoking efforts.