Friday, December 12, 2008

Inhaling fear

You can't scare people away from smoking. That's the conclusion of a study talked up in a New York Times op ed today. So we're wasting a lot of money won in anti-smoking lawsuits, spent on futile scare stories that just happen to be true (smoke and you're gonna die, sucka!).

What does this have to do with fish?

We're using some similar scare stories in efforts to get people to stop eating unsustainable seafood (eat this fish and the ocean will die, sucka!). With a weaker pitch, it must be even less likely to work than the anti-smoking scare story.

Is there a lesson for save-the-fishes people in this story?


Up Welng said...

i like the analogy you're trying to make here mark... but a bit of apples and oranges, wouldn't you agree?

nicotine is an addictive, albeit licit, chemical... while scare tactics may have failed to deter smokers, it's not a simple matter of simply just saying no and seeing reason when chemical receptors in the brain are jonseing for the next fix...

i'm not arguing in favor of scare tactics for sustainable seafood, but there is an important pharmacological/psychological difference here...

Mark Powell said...

Bit of apples and oranges, or cigarettes and fish. The details of the study are informative and support the analogy, however.

Smoking scare stories didn't even activate the part of the brain that register alarm or disapproval. The scare stories didn't even scare. So I worry that overfishing scare stories won't scare either, since they're so much milder than smoking scare stories.

No clear answers here. But I'm dissatisfied with scare stories as an attempt to save the oceans (or anything else). That's a played out strategy, it's tired. I'm not arguing for sugar-coating the facts. I'm arguing for finding an approach other than doom and gloom so that people actually HEAR the facts.

Latitude 43 said...

Do the smoking ads work to prevent young people from trying it? Has the number of teen smokers declined?
What I'm getting at is, kids growing up tend to get the message, and they are your best chance at change. They need to be educated about our environment, and exposed to it. Outdoor classroom time, field trips, getting your hands dirty, not computer time in the air conditioning.
As for the adults,
there needs to be an authoritative voice, that reaches out to the masses, otherwise the only folks who will get it, are the people who read these blogs. Most adult Americans don't believe anything unless it hits us in the face, or wallet.

Anonymous said...

Fear and facts are both relatively weak motivators. People like us severely underestimate the importance of examples and peer pressure. I wrote a blog post on how this affects smoking back in February.

The takeaway is that smoking rates have falled because smokers want to avoid being socially ostracized, rather than protect their health.