Giving up smoking is hard, but according to a recent study, public health campaigns and polices that stigmatize smokers don’t make it any easier. Researchers found that these campaigns not only don't discourage people from smoking, but they may also cause them to feel depressed, making it even harder for them to eventually kick the habit.

This year the American Legacy Foundation, the organization behind anti-smoking Truth Campaigns, decided to ditch their usual theme of body bags and crying children and instead try something new. The “Swipe Left” ad attempted to discourage smoking by depicting people who smoke as unattractive and therefore less likely to get a date. The ad, which is filled with a barrage of “Youtube celebrities” and pop stars virtually unknown to anyone born before 1995, urges viewers to “swipe left” on the popular dating app Tinder and turn down potential romantic matches that are holding a cigarette in their profile photos.

According to a study now published in the online journal Social Science and Medicine, while ads like these may have good intentions, their messages help to stigmatize smokers. Feeling alienated can cause smokers to feel angry, defensive, and ultimately less likely to give up their habit. According to Rebecca Evans-Polce, a researcher involved in the study, in a recent statement, these feelings are linked to various consequences in smokers, ranging from "increased intentions to quit smoking to increased stress to greater resistance to quitting smoking,"

In order to come to this conclusion, the researchers reviewed about 600 articles relating to smoking self-stigma. They found that between 30 to 40 percent of smokers felt high levels of disapproval and social unacceptability, around 27 percent felt they were treated differently due to their habit, and 39 percent of smokers believed that people thought less of them. Many smokers were cited as using words such as “outcast,” “low life,” “pathetic,” and “bad person” to describe themselves.

"The stereotypes that smokers deal with are almost universally negative," said Sara Evans-Lacko, research fellow, London School of Economics and Political Science — a truth which is especially true for parents who smoke.

According to the study, although past research has suggested that smoking stigma, or labeling those who smoke as disgraceful or less worthy, has prompted many to give up the habit the new data suggest that on a larger scale these stigmatizing tactics actually backfire. Instead of helping smokers quit, the campaigns may instead led to a number of different outcomes, such as relapses, increased resistance to quitting, self-induced isolation, and higher stress levels.

While public awareness campaigns are important in helping to further reduce smoking rates, these results show that current "stigmatizing" tactics may not be working as originally anticipated. "Future research is needed to understand what factors are related to how individuals respond to smoking stigma," Evans-Lacko added.

Instead, the researchers suggest campaigns highlighting the benefits of giving up smoking, such as being able to be more physically active and saving money, may do a better job of convincing smokers to give up their habits.

Source: Evans-Polce RJ, Castaldelli JM, Schomerus G, Evans-Lacko SE. The downside of tobacco control? Smoking and self-stigma: A systematic review. Social Science & Medicine. 2015.

Update: This article was updated to clarify that the Social Science & Medicine study did not specifically cite the Swipe Left campaign.