At first, a lot of people smoked because someone had told them to smoke (Marlboro Man, WWII, 9 out of 10 doctors, etc.) So, when the anti-smoking zealots told them to stop, they stopped.
Then a bunch of other people listened to the growing evidence of the harms of smoking — scientific and anecdotal (hawking-wheezing-smelly-relatives) — and, being intelligent and prudent, they stopped smoking.
And, the zealots had reason to rejoice, as tens of millions abandoned their nasty smoking habit in not much more than a decade. The zealots felt they were excellent at getting people to stop smoking! But their joy was short-lived. The numbers of people giving up smoking slowed and then stalled.
For the zealots had finally come up against the people who do the exact opposite of what they’re told, as a kind of philosophy. The more these smokers were told to stop smoking – being contrary — the more they wanted to smoke.
And the zealots also came up against those smokers who get very positive physical and mental effects – effects that they like or need or both. The schizophrenic, the seriously bored and oral-personality types are three examples.
The zealots think non-quitting smokers don’t understand the danger to their health. They feel smokers need be persuaded more emphatically. If smokers understood, the zealots reason, surely they would stop smoking. They don’t understand how smokers can claim to know the dangers and keep on smoking anyway..
The zealots don’t understand that for the smokers compelled to act contrary, danger is part of the appeal, pumping out the dopamine just like driving fast, taking hard drugs or having unprotected sex.
And the smokers who get a strong positive mental/physical boost (like seriously bored, schizophrenic oral personality types) may have already done the risk/reward ratio and had their math come down on the side of smoking.
I once had a mayor who, when you disagreed with him insisted that “you didn’t understand.” Then he would continue to try and persuade you. I always wanted to tell him. “I do understand. I just don’t agree.”
But many of the 20 percent or so of Americans adults who still smoke do understand the scientific evidence and have witnessed the anecdotal effects first hand. More emphatic versions of the same messages won’t help them quit. They understand. They just don’t agree.