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How do smokers respond to pictorial and threatening tobacco warnings? The role of threat level, repeated exposure, type of packs and warning size

Sophie Lacoste-Badie (IAE Lille Graduate School of Management, LEM UMR 9221, University of Lille, Lille, France)
Karine Gallopel-Morvan (EHESP School of Public Health, EA 7348 MOS, Rennes, France)
Mathieu Lajante (Department of Marketing, Faculty of Business Administration, Université Laval, Quebec City, Quebec, Canada)
Olivier Droulers (IAE Rennes Graduate School of Management, CREM UMR 6211, University of Rennes, Rennes, France)

Journal of Consumer Marketing

ISSN: 0736-3761

Article publication date: 12 April 2019

Issue publication date: 18 June 2019




This study aims to investigate the role of two structural factors – threat level depicted on fear messages and warning size – as well as two contextual factors – repeated exposure and type of packs – on pictorial and threatening tobacco warnings’ effectiveness.


A two (warning threat level: moderate vs high) × two (coverage: 40 vs 75 per cent) × two (packaging type: plain vs branded) within-subjects experiment was carried out. Subjects were exposed three times to pictorial and threatening tobacco warnings. Both self-report and psychophysiological measurements of emotion were used.


Results indicate that threat level is the most effective structural factor to influence smokers’ reactions, while warning size has very low impact. Furthermore, emotional arousal, fear and disgust, as well as attitude toward tobacco brand, decrease after the second exposure to pictorial and threatening tobacco warnings, but stay stable at the third exposure. However, there is no effect of repetition on the emotional valence component, arousal-subjective component, on intention of quitting or of reducing cigarette consumption. Finally, there is a negative effect of plain packs on attitude toward tobacco brand over repeated exposures, but there is no effect of the type of packs on smokers’ emotions and intentions.

Social implications

Useful marketing social guidance, which might help government decision-makers increase the effectiveness of smoking reduction measures, is offered.


For the first time in this context, psychophysiological and self-report measurements were combined to measure smokers’ reactions toward pictorial and threatening tobacco warnings in a repeated exposure study.



Funding: This work was supported by Grant no. 2013-154 I(D)MATREC from the French National Cancer Institute, the Inter-Ministerial Mission for Combating Drugs and Addictive Behaviours (MILDECA) and the University of Paris XIII. This funding source had no role in the design of the study, during its execution, analyses, interpretation of the data, or decision to submit results.


Lacoste-Badie, S., Gallopel-Morvan, K., Lajante, M. and Droulers, O. (2019), "How do smokers respond to pictorial and threatening tobacco warnings? The role of threat level, repeated exposure, type of packs and warning size", Journal of Consumer Marketing, Vol. 36 No. 4, pp. 461-471.



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