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Correcting Over 50 Years of Tobacco Industry Misinformation

      Background

      In 2006, a U.S. Federal Court ruled that the major domestic cigarette manufacturers were guilty of conspiring to deny, distort, and minimize the hazards of cigarette smoking to the public and ordered corrective statements to correct these deceptions.

      Purpose

      This study evaluates the effectiveness of different versions of corrective statements that were proposed to the Court.

      Methods

      239 adult smokers (aged 18–65 years) were randomized to view one of five different versions of corrective statements on five topics (health risks, addiction, low-tar cigarettes, product manipulation, and secondhand smoke); change in knowledge and beliefs were measured before and after viewing the statements, as well as 1 week later. Three of the versions were text-based statements recommended by different parties in the case (Philip Morris, U.S. Department of Justice [DOJ], Interveners), whereas two others were developed at Roswell Park Cancer Institute (RPCI) for this study and utilized pictorial images (emotive and neutral). Data collection and analysis were conducted in Buffalo NY from 2008 to 2009.

      Results

      Regardless of which corrective statement was seen, exposure resulted in a consistent pattern of increased level of knowledge and corrected misperceptions about smoking, although the effects were not large and diminished back toward baseline levels within 1 week. The DOJ, Interveners, and emotive statements elicited a stronger affective response and were rated by respondents as more persuasive (p-value<0.05). The emotive statement was better recalled and drew the respondents' attention in the shortest amount of time.

      Conclusions

      Each of the proposed corrective statements tested helped correct false beliefs about smoking, but sustained impact will likely require repeated exposures to the message.
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