Smoking has been in the sights of successive campaigns from the government, NHS, charities and health groups.
In 2016, 15.8% of adults in the UK smoked. Down from 17.2% in 2015, according to data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). In 1974, almost half of all adults smoked.
Some people stubbornly continue, however. In a bid to tackle this, researchers at Manchester Metropolitan University developed new tactics alongside the traditional.
Professor Sarah Grogan is a health psychologist, specialising in body image and how that might influence our health behaviours.
By utilising specialist age-related facial morphing software. Her research looks at the impact of our habits on how our faces might age. It uses the shock factor of seeing ourselves in older age to inspire change today.
“It’s simple, effective and has a massive impact on people’s motivation to change. People can’t get the image of themselves as an aged smoker out of their heads,” said Prof Grogan.
Damage to appearance, more than health, is key
Prof Grogan first conducted studies in 2008 at Staffordshire University. “We can break bad habits after being confronted with evidence of their adverse impacts. However, in many cases, we may continue regardless, often with negative consequences for our health.”
“We initially spoke to young people aged 17-24 in a focus group study. Asked them what would motivate them to quit smoking – and the key thing was damage to their appearance.
“There is a very effective facial morphing programme by APRIL. Which shows you how your skin would look if you stopped smoking. And how it would look if you carried on smoking, right up to 72 years of age.
At Manchester Metropolitan, Prof Grogan expanded on the research with colleague Dr Maria Cordero, analysing stress levels via skin response and pulse.
The team want to see if there is a connection between stress response and the propensity to quit smoking when facially morphed. It is attracting the attention of NHS services.
The work has now evolved into other corners of public health, namely UV exposure and alcohol consumption.