nos-trum. pronunciation: \nos'-trum\. noun. Etymology: Latin, neuter of noster our, ours.
1. a medicine of secret composition recommended by its preparer but usually without scientific proof of its effectiveness.
2. a usually questionable remedy or scheme.
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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Smokers Think "Slims" Are Less Harmful

The power of words to alter or confirm belief.

I was trying to force myself to study a boring paper on comparative effectiveness research in medical therapeutics when I came across a reference (Science Daily, Apr 12) to one of those How-Can-People-Be-So-Stupid studies (Addiction, Apr 12):  a survey of cigarette smokers' beliefs about cigarettes.

Socialists re-branded themselves as Social Democrats, liberals want to be called "progressives."  The world is filled with people who are trying to use language to change perceptions.

In the US, companies may not, by law, use the words "light," "mild," or "low-tar," with reference to their tobacco products because they give the false impression that the cigarettes so labeled are less harmful.  Not every country prohibits this deceptive practice.

But in a country where 26% of adults surveyed think that health care reform was repealed, it's probably not surprising that smokers would come to have false beliefs about cigarettes.

This survey-based research found that one-fifth of people who smoke think that if the cigarette brand is labeled with the words "slims" or "golds" or "silver", then they are less harmful.

[Insert:  Other beliefs smokers delude themselves about are that "cigarettes with harsh taste are riskier to smoke than smooth-tasking cigarettes, filters reduce risk, and nicotine is responsible for most of the cancer caused by cigarettes." (from the Science Daily article]

Lest you think the situation can't be worse, the researchers who did the study advocate restricting advertising language further.

Chasing after adjectives is a losing proposition.  If you write a law against "slims" and "golds" then companies will just shift to another set:  "trims"  "low-cal" "organic" (how can fight that one?). 

Imagine "Marlboro Anti-Oxidants," or "Vita Kools."

I don't think these people are fooled by the words.  In fact, they know smoking is harmful and are desperate to find some mitigating or modifying feature in order to continue the habit.

It lessens the cognitive dissonance:  we form beliefs that are in line with our needs, and when conflicting evidence arises we modify the interpretation of the evidence in order to persist in our beliefs.   Standard human psychology.

So, the answer isn't more laws about language.  People will always find a way to believe what they want to believe.

There ain't no cure for human nature.

Doc D

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