“No Smoking” Signs Actually Make Smokers Want Cigarettes More

Though practically everyone in America knows that you can’t smoke in subways and office buildings anymore, for whatever reason, that hasn’t cut down on the prevalence of those bright red “No Smoking” signs in places public and private across the United States. But while those signs mean well, they might actually promote what they attempt to curb.

A new study from Brian Earp at Oxford University says that no smoking signs have an “ironic effect” on smokers in that they force them to think about cigarettes and, thus, make them want to light up: “In a series of experiments, the researchers showed that participants who had earlier been shown no smoking signs were more drawn to smoking-related images such as ashtrays and cigarettes.”

Stop smoking sign

Stop smoking sign

“When I say ‘don’t think of a pink elephant,’ I’ve just put the thought of a pink elephant in your head,” says Earp. “No smoking signs in particular are everywhere. If you’re a smoker walking down a street you’re likely to pass five or six of these signs in windows or on doors. If you have a chronically positive attitude to smoking this could boost your craving.”

Stop smoking

Stop smoking

Earp hasn’t done a followup study yet, but he theorizes that this ironic effect might apply to a lot of public campaigns designed to discourage actions: Don’t do drugs, don’t drink and drive, etc.

Sounds like you’ve got yet another reason to be positive. If you want people to smoke in your place of business less, don’t remind them that their habit isn’t welcome.

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