The Two Faces of Fear: A History of Hard-Hitting Public Health Campaigns Against Tobacco and AIDS

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Abstract

ABSTRACT

Fear is now commonly used in public health campaigns, yet for years ethical and efficacy-centered concerns provided a challenge to using fear in such efforts. From the 1950s through the 1970s, the field of public health believed that using fear to influence individual behavior would virtually always backfire. Yet faced with the limited effectiveness of informational approaches to cessation, antitobacco campaigns featured fear in the 1960s. These provoked little protest outside the tobacco industry. At the outset of the AIDS epidemic, fear was also employed. However, activists denounced these messages as stigmatizing, halting use of fear for HIV/AIDS until the 21st century. Opposition began to fracture with growing concerns about complacency and the risks of HIV transmission, particularly among gay men. With AIDS, fear overcame opposition only when it was framed as fair warning with the potential to correct misperceptions.

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