Engaging Minds, Transforming Lives

King Creativity at Southwestern

Smoke Screens: Cross-cultural Effectiveness of Anti-Smoking Messages

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by Kelly Turner and Krista Wilke

Smoking is the largest preventable cause of illness and premature death in the United States, increasing people’s risk of heart disease, cancer, and other smoking-related illnesses (Department of Health and Human Services, 2000). With cigarette companies spending as much as $75 million on advertising as Marlboro did in 1993 (Consumer Reports, 1995), anti-smoking campaigns would be wise to consider specific populations if they are to compete with the likes of Marlboro and other major conglomerates.

One population that is at significant risk for smoking is Hispanic Americans. Upwards of 31% of Hispanic American high school students report cigarette use and almost a fourth of the total Hispanic American population currently smokes, with this number on the rise (Casas, Bimbela, Corral, Yanez, Swaim, Wayman, & Bates, 1998). Understanding what constitutes an effective anti-smoking message for minority populations is crucial to improving current U.S. marketing strategies, especially as they relate to health behaviors.

One factor that has been used to explain differences between populations is cultural orientation. Cultural orientation is most commonly categorized by the terms individualism and collectivism (Han & Shavitt, 1994; Hui, 1988). These terms describe the extent to which a person’s identity is dependent on others. That is, individuals with a collectivist orientation tend to consider others when making decisions whereas those with an individualistic orientation tend to be more independent and self-reliant. In effect, one’s cultural orientation describes the extent to which a person feels integrated with others and with his or her social environment (Hui, 1988).

There is evidence that targeting advertisements based on cultural orientation is not only common but is also an effective strategy. For example, a study by Han and Shavitt (1994) found that advertisements in the U.S. (in which the majority of the population traditionally identifies as individualistic) tend to focus on individual benefits and preferences, personal success, and independence. However, advertisements in Korea (where the majority of the population identifies as collectivist) typically emphasize in-group benefits, harmony, and family integrity. Their study also found that individualistic appeals were more effective in the U.S. than in Korea, whereas collectivist appeals were more effective in Korea than in the U.S. (Han & Shavitt, 1994).

The present study examined Anglo and Hispanic Americans’ responses to anti-smoking messages that posed a threat to either an individual smoker or to the family of a smoker. After viewing one of the two anti-smoking messages, participants answered questions about fear elicited by the message, their attitudes toward smoking, their intentions to smoke, and their opinions on several other health-related questions. It was hypothesized that for Anglo Americans (typically an individualistic group), an anti-smoking message that targeted the individual would be more effective than would an anti-smoking message that threatened the family. Conversely, it was hypothesized that for Hispanic Americans (generally a collectivist group), an anti-smoking message targeting the family would be more effective than would one that threatened the individual.

The results of the present study showed that Anglo Americans were more anxious after viewing the anti-smoking message that targeted the individual than after viewing the anti-smoking message that targeted the family. The reverse was found for Hispanic Americans, who reported being more anxious after viewing the anti-smoking message that targeted the family than after viewing the anti-smoking message that targeted the individual. These results support the hypotheses and thus provide insight into designing more effective anti-smoking messages geared toward Hispanic Americans. It was also expected that degree of acculturation (the extent to which a person identifies with the majority population) would affect cultural orientation and therefore would influence the effectiveness of the messages. Consistent with this notion, more acculturated Hispanic American participants, as determined by the participant’s primary language (Palinkas, Pierce, Rosbrook, Pickwell, Johnson, & Bal, 1993), had more negative attitudes toward smoking after viewing the anti-smoking message targeting the individual than did the less acculturated Hispanic Americans. Interestingly, Hispanic Americans were more affected by anti-smoking messages in general than were Anglo Americans. That is, after viewing the anti-smoking messages, Hispanic Americans were more fearful about the harmful effects of smoking, reported stronger intentions to live a smoke-free, and had more negative attitudes toward smoking than did the Anglo American participants.

Taken together, these results support the notion that effective anti-smoking campaigns aimed toward Hispanic Americans should focus on the negative consequences of smoking in order to deter this susceptible group from lighting up. Furthermore, the target population’s level of acculturation should be considered when developing effective anti-smoking campaigns. It is hoped that with more research in this area, we can stamp out smoking in this growing population.



Casas, J. M., Bimbela, A., Corral, C. V., Yanez, I., Swaim, R. C., Wayman, J. C., & Bates, S. (1998). Cigarette and smokeless tobacco use among migrant and nonmigrant Mexican American youth. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 20, 102-121.

Consumer Reports. (1995). Hooked on tobacco; the teen epidemic, 60, 142-147.

Department of Health and Human Services. (2001). Deaths: Preliminary Data for 2000. Retrieved March 16, 2003, from

Han, S., & Shavitt, S. (1994). Persuasion and culture: advertising appeals in individualistic and collectivist societies. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 30, 326-350.

Hui, C. H. (1988). Measurement of individualism-collectivism. Journal of Research in Personality, 22, 17-36.

Palinkas, L. A., Pierce, J., Rosbrook, B. P., Pickwell, S., Johnson, M., & Bal D. G. (1993). Cigarette smoking behavior and beliefs of Hispanics in California. American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 9(6), 331-337.