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Article | A qualitative analysis of messages to promote smoking cessation among pregnant women



Although aware that smoking while pregnant presents serious risks to their unborn children, some women continue to smoke and rationalise their dissonance rather than quit. We explored metaphors women used to frame smoking and quitting, then developed cessation messages that drew on these metaphors and examined the perceived effectiveness of these.


We used a two-phase qualitative study. Phase one involved 13 in-depth interviews with women who were smoking (or who had smoked) while pregnant. Phase two comprised 22 in-depth interviews with a new sample drawn from the same population.


Data were analysed using thematic analysis, which promoted theme identification independently of the research protocol.


Participants often described smoking as a choice, a frame that explicitly asserted control over their behaviour. This stance allowed them to counterargue messages to quit, and distanced them from the risks they created and faced. Messages tested in phase 2 used strong affective appeals as well as themes that stimulated cognitive reflection. Without exception, the
messages depicting unwell or distressed children elicited strong emotional responses, were more powerful cessation stimuli, and elicited fewer counterarguments.


Cessation messages that evoke strong affective responses capitalise on the dissonance many women feel when smoking while pregnant and stimulate stronger consideration of quitting. Given the importance of promoting cessation among pregnant women, future campaigns could make greater use of emotional appeals and place less emphasis on informational approaches, which often prompt vigorous counter-arguments.


Hoek, J., Gifford, H., Maubach, N., & Newcombe, R. (2014). A qualitative analysis of messages to promote smoking cessation among pregnant women. BMJ open, 4(11), e006716.

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For more information please contact:
Professor Janet Hoek
University of Otago

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