From: Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 46(1):226-228 · January 2010

Jochim HansenSascha TopolinskiSusanne Winzeler


One of the principal vehicles for informing tobacco consumers about the risks of smoking is the warning message on each cigarette package. Based on terror management theory, the present study investigates the impact of mortality-salient warnings on cigarette packages compared to warnings with no mortality threat. Results suggest that to the degree that smoking is a source of self-esteem, later attitudes towards smoking become more positive if the warning message is mortality-salient. On the contrary, if the warning is terrifying but not mortality-salient and relates to the source of self-esteem, smoking attitudes become more negative with higher smoking-based self-esteem. Thus, mortality-salient warnings may increase the tendency to favor smoking under certain circumstances. This fatal ironic effect highlights the importance of a risk communication that matches the self-esteem contingencies of the recipients, and it has urgent implications for health care policy.

When the Death Makes You Smoke: A Terror Management Perspective on the Effectiveness of Cigarette On-Pack Warnings | Request PDF. Available from: [accessed Aug 09 2018].