If your New Year's resolution to quit smoking has collapsed, a new study suggests another strategy that might help you to get back on track: conjuring up treasured memories.

[A man crushing a cigarette packet]Share on Pinterest
Researchers say that nostalgic public service announcements may help smokers to quit.

Researchers found that, when shown a public service announcement designed to induce nostalgia, people who smoke were more likely to display negative attitudes toward smoking and exhibit a greater intention to quit, compared with smokers shown a non-nostalgic message.

Study authors Ali Hussain and Maria Lapinski, of Michigan State University, say that their findings suggest that quit-smoking campaigns should focus on producing nostalgia-evoking messages rather than ones that evoke negative emotions such as fear and guilt.

The researchers recently reported their findings in the journal Communication Research Reports.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cigarette smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, accounting for around 1 in 5 deaths in the country every year.

In 2015, around 16.7 percent of men and 13.6 percent of women reported currently smoking cigarettes, with adults aged between 25 and 44 reporting the highest smoking rates.

Nostalgia vs. fear

Most current quit-smoking campaigns focus on illustrating the health implications of smoking, which often prompt feelings of fear, disgust, guilt, and other such negative emotions.

However, Hussain notes that "smokers often don't buy the messages and instead feel badly about themselves and the person who is trying to scare them."

For their study, Hussain and Lapinski sought to determine whether nostalgia-evoking messages - which are often used in advertising campaigns - might be more effective in encouraging people who smoke to quit.

The team enrolled a group of smokers aged between 18 and 39. Some of the smokers were shown a nostalgic public service announcement (PSA), while the remaining participants were shown a non-nostalgic PSA.

The nostalgic PSA consisted of childhood images combined with narration. The narrator used phrases such as "I remember when I was a boy" and "I miss the simplicity of life, being outside on a warm summer night," while referring to familiar scents and tastes from childhood. The narrator concludes by talking about the time he was first offered cigarettes.

The nostalgic PSA can be viewed in full below:

Nostalgic PSAs evoke cherished memories to influence behavior

Compared with smokers who viewed the non-nostalgic PSA, those who viewed the nostalgic PSA reported feeling greater nostalgic emotions.

Importantly, smokers who viewed the nostalgic PSA also reported greater negative attitudes toward smoking and greater intention to quit the habit, compared with those who viewed the non-nostalgic PSA.

The researchers explain that nostalgic PSAs increase viewers' engagement by arousing images of their own treasured memories, which can impact attitudes and behavior. They believe that such PSAs may be useful to help people quit smoking.

"Our study, which to our knowledge is first of its kind, shows promise for using nostalgic messages to promote pro-social behaviors. We know that policy and environmental changes have an influence on smoking and this study indicates persuasive messages can influence smoking attitudes."

Maria Lapinski

Learn whether e-cigarettes are a safer alternative to conventional cigarettes.