Does Moralization Motivate Smokers to Quit? A Longitudinal Study of Representative Samples of Smokers in the United States and Denmark

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Nicotine and Tobacco Research


Introduction: Moralization refers to the gradual cultural and personal process by which objects or activities move from being morally neutral to morally contemptuous. Research suggests important cross-cultural differences in how smokers react to being targets of moralization. However, research has not examined whether smokers who agree with moralized sentiments about smoking are more willing to quit or reduce their smoking. Additionally, the mediating role of perceived personal risk has not been examined.

Methods: In this study, representative samples of smokers in Denmark (a smoking lenient country; N = 429) and the United States (a smoking prohibitive country; N = 431) completed surveys 6 months apart.

Results: As expected, Danish smokers (compared to U.S. smokers) moralized less and estimated that their personal risk of lung cancer was smaller. Furthermore, moralization at T1 predicted an increase in perceived personal risk at T2 (for Danish smokers and marginally for U.S. smokers), a decrease in smoking behaviors (for Danish smokers only), and an increase in quitting intentions (marginally for Danish smokers only). For Danish smokers, perceived personal risk mediated the relationship between moralization and quitting intentions.

Conclusions: Moralization predicted an increase in perceived personal risk, an increase in quitting intentions, and a reduction in smoking behaviors, especially for the Danish sample. Future research should examine the effects of moralization in different cultural contexts.


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