The dangers of second hand smoke have been well documented in recent decades. The Centers For Disease Control estimates that:
- Second-hand smoke causes nearly 34,000 premature deaths from heart disease each year in the United States among non-smokers
- Non-smokers who are exposed to second-hand smoke at home or at work increase their risk of developing heart disease by 25–30%
- Second-hand smoke increases the risk for stroke by 20−30%, and causes more than 8,000 deaths from stroke annually
… they have to run the gauntlet of smokers …
Because of these dangers, many countries have now instituted a ban on indoor smoking in public and workplaces. While these laws have been a success in protecting non-smokers’ health, it has created other unintended side effects. For example, many smokers choose to ignore the abundance of signs posted around the entrances banning smoking, resulting in a pile of smokers who now linger at these doorways. This, of course, provides an obstacle to anyone wanting to enter the building as they have to run the gauntlet of smokers and smoke to make their way inside.
Copenhagen Airport in Denmark was faced with this exact situation. With over 23 million passengers travelling through its facility annually, and an estimated 25% of whom smoke, the airport was struggling with getting these highly resistant people to comply with the new non-smoking legislation.
The authorities could have approached obtaining compliance it in two different ways:
- Prescriptive – encouraging the appropriate behaviour
- Proscriptive – banning the inappropriate behaviour
These two methods elicit very different responses ….
These two methods elicit very different responses because telling someone what they can do is quite a bit different than telling them what they can’t do. The authorities recognized that the new rules banning smoking were not getting the results they wanted, and they did not want to escalate the situation by imposing fines and penalties on smokers violating the rule.
The Airport needed help, and so they approached a team of researchers at iNudgeyou, who are experts in applied behavioural science. They specialize in getting results by deploying nudges.
Nudge theory was the subject of a 2008 book, ‘Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness’, written by professors Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein. It provides a framework for understanding how people analyse, make choices, and act. They then use this knowledge to influence their target groups with “nudges” to promote appropriate behaviour. The theory is in large part based on the work of psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. (Kahneman won a Nobel prize in 2002 for his research in the subject.)
The Danish team challenged with the smoking problem began by observing 1,323 smokers at the airport. They wanted to understand the series of steps, actions, and perhaps even rituals that an average smoker would go through to light up a cigarette, smoke the cigarette, and then finally dispose of the butt. They understood that this is the critical first step: It is only by thoroughly understanding your subject that you can properly design an intervention that will work.
Here are some of the observations collected during this stage:
- 85 percent of the smokers came outside from the building, with about half returning to the building
- The number of bags and pieces of luggage had no significant effect on non-compliance with the rules
- In some periods more than 100 smokers an hour were observed smoking in the non-smoking zones. This of course only encouraged others smokers to join them (psychologists call this ‘social proof’)
- In general, 58 percent of all smokers smoked in the no-smoking zone
The team was also charged with mapping the behaviour patterns that these smokers engaged in. Things like informing their travel companions of their intention to smoke, their path to the entrance way of the building, the moment in which they actually put the cigarette into their mouth (usually as they entered the rotating doors), and what environmental items and cues affected their behaviour in transit to the smoking location as well as during the actual smoking of the cigarette (e.g. signage, other smokers, sunlight, wind, seating areas, etc.)
Based on their research, the team devised a three prong approach for getting these smokers to comply:
- Intuitive coding – One of the first things a smoker may be thinking about is simply “where can I go to smoke?” To address this floor stickers were placed showing an icon of a lit cigarette and the number of meters and direction of the designated smoking area. The floor stickers were placed in those areas of the airport that were observed to have the highest incidence of smokers reaching into their pockets for cigarettes.
- Re-arrangement of environmental affordances – An affordance is any item that allows the opportunity for an action to be performed. For example a doorknob allows the door to be opened, while a remote control allows a television to be turned on. Environmental affordances that encouraged smoking such as chairs, benches, and trash receptacles were moved away from the non-smoking areas.
- Publicly salient (spotlight effect) prescriptions – The last prong the team used in their behavioural modification attempt was to use highly visible environmental objects to encourage smokers to only light up in the appropriate zone. The smoking zone was outlined with yellow floor tape, lit cigarette icons were placed in the area, and yellow ashtrays installed. By having a clear area marked as to WHERE THEY COULD SMOKE as opposed to WHERE THEY COULD NOT SMOKE, the team amplified the possibility that the smokers would comply.
What were the results?
Smoking in the non-smoking areas of the airport declined by over 50% as a result of the nudging strategy!
Want to try nudging for yourself?
… nudging can be an effective strategy for anyone wanting to gain compliance.
Although each situation is unique, nudging can be an effective strategy for anyone wanting to gain compliance. Here are some examples of simple nudges you may be already familiar with:
- Indicator Lights – Do you recall the old days of changing the car’s oil every 5,000 miles, and then having to remember to do that? The cars of today TELL you when to replace the oil with an indicator light. It’s the same with your fridge’s water filter.
- No-bite Nail Polish – Want to stop biting your nails? Just apply a coat of polish from Orly No-Bite! It tastes awful!!
- Default Options – In our previous article, we detail how some European countries were able to have a 99.98% organ donor consent rate by simply changing the default options on the donor card.
Nudging is about understanding not only why people do something, but also why they do not. You can encourage appropriate behaviour by deploying tools, information, and resources like those of the Danish team that allow people to voluntarily undertake the desired action.