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Research suggests that smoking may compound the risk of serious health problems to smokers who contract COVID-19. This study examines whether and how exposure to news stories reporting the severe COVID-19 risk to smokers may influence smokers’ emotional responses (fear, anxiety, and sadness) and intentions to take measures to quit smoking. Current smokers in the US participated in an online experiment (N = 495) and were randomized to read smoking risk news stories or news stories reporting the combined risk of smoking and COVID-19. We found that combined risk news stories lead to participants feeling more fearful and sadder than when they viewed smoking risk news stories (M = 5.74; SD = 2.57 vs. M = 5.20; SD = 2.74; p < .05). Fear fully mediated the effect of news exposure on intentions to take measures to quit smoking (ß = .09; SE = 05; 95% CI [.010, .200]). Moreover, moderated-mediation analyses revealed that the mediating effect of fear was conditioned on the levels of comparative optimism, such that the association between fear and intentions to take measures to quit smoking was only significant among smokers whose comparative optimism was at the mean score (ß = .16; SE = 05; 95% CI [.071, .250]), and for those whose comparative optimism was high (ß = .27; SE = .06; 95% CI [.146, .395]). These results suggest that fear of the pandemic and optimism might play important roles in predicting and explaining the association between exposure to news stories and intentions to take measures to quit smoking. Messages about heightened risk of COVID-19 complications for smokers that increase fear might be an effective strategy to motivate smokers to quit. Such messages should be used to turn the adversity of COVID-19 pandemic into an intervention opportunity to reduce tobacco-related disease.
Duong HT, Massey ZB, Churchill V, Popova L (2021) Are smokers scared by COVID-19 risk? How fear and comparative optimism influence smokers’ intentions to take measures to quit smoking. PLoS ONE 16(12): e0260478. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0260478
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