Smoking kills. It’s a warning that has been drilled into everybody’s minds from a young age.
Children in schools are shown horrifying images of what the act of inhaling nicotine-laden tobacco smoke can do to their bodies. Similar graphics are found on cigarette packs to deter grownups from this harmful and addictive habit, even if the efficacy of these images is questionable.
Then there are organisations that opt for a more creative approach in relaying this message to the public. In conjunction with World No Tobacco Day today, FMT has compiled eight intriguing and innovative public-service advertisements from all over.
1. Cancer Patients Aid Association, India
With its links to respiratory diseases, cancer and other life-threatening conditions, smoking has been known to shorten lifespans significantly.
This ad from 2009 channels, through striking imagery, the idea of cigarettes smoking people instead of vice-versa. The above poster shows smokers in a bistro booth, while an alternative version features the remnants of a person smoking in bed.
The clever campaign was commissioned by India’s Cancer Patients Aid Association, whose primary goal is to help cancer patients who might not be able to afford the best treatments medical science has to offer.
2. American Cancer Society, United States
Those who are familiar with computers – which would be most people – would also be familiar with the imagery of a download bar.
In this ad by the American Cancer Society, a volunteer organisation aimed at stamping out the disease in various forms, the simple design and colour scheme effectively convey that smoking is skin to “downloading” cancer into your body.
Curiously, the words “Ctrl Alt Del” are featured at the bottom of the image – its meaning in technological terms evident; its metaphorical message left to the viewer to interpret.
3. Tobacco-Free Futures, United Kingdom
The American Cancer Society reported in 2018 that survey participants who lived with a daily smoker throughout their childhood had a 31% higher risk of mortality compared with those who did not live with a smoker.
Its research found that exposing children and adults to secondhand smoke can increase their risk of death from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – a message sombrely conveyed in this ad by Tobacco-Free Futures, a UK-based social enterprise that strives to change how everyone thinks about tobacco.
4. United Arab Emirates
A series of ads published in the United Arab Emirates in 2016 cleverly superimposes everyday activities – sitting down for a meal, playing with your child, enjoying a game of tennis – and a smoker on a pair of giant fingertips holding a cigarette.
The message here is clear: smoking creates a chasm between you and your loved ones, and this gap only widens, potentially permanently, the more you continue this destructive habit.
5. Orient Electric, India
This brings another layer to the phrase “kids are perfect mirrors of their parents”. In this ad – from a home-appliance company, no less – a child imitates his dad’s actions, which seems innocent at first when he puts on a shirt that’s way too big for him.
Things take a more sinister turn, however, when the boy copies him taking a puff from an imaginary cigarette, which causes the father to reflect on his actions and put down his own cigarette.
It ends with a call for viewers and smokers to “stub the habit”.
6. Health Service Executive Ireland I
Those who are addicted to smoking can testify that it can be seemingly impossible to quit.
Health Service Executive Ireland – the country’s publicly funded healthcare system – recently came up with an ad that plays more like a horror film, with a man’s inner demon tempting him to smoke again after he quits, showing up wherever he is and yelling at him.
Thankfully, it ends on a positive note, as the man perseveres and celebrates a month of not smoking – proving that stubbing the habit can, indeed, be done with some hard work and perseverance.
7. Health Service Executive Ireland II
Also by HSE Ireland, this ad from 2017 is significantly more cheerful and upbeat than the last one. It features many quitters singing along to Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” – proud, determined, and defiant.
This commercial was part of the organisation’s QUIT campaign that included real-life ex-smokers who agreed to share their experiences of quitting to inspire others to follow suit.
“Some people in the ad are in the moment of giving up, others are in a moment of truth around the effect smoking has had on their life… all are defiant in the face of cigarettes and the harm they do,” the campaign stated.
8. Malaysian ministry of health
Of course, no list of stop-smoking ads compilation would be complete without Malaysia’s own “Tak Nak Merokok” campaign from 2004-2010, which features, among others, local stage veteran Jo Kukathas.
No doubt a commercial that would unlock memories of most adults here, this ad features multiple patients that are bed-bound from smoking-related illnesses, with their family either visibly scared or worried for them.
It’s a heartbreaking but impactful narrative, but how effective was it? According to a 2015 exegesis on the campaign, research indicated it was successful in terms of reach, with 93% of smokers aware of its existence.
Nevertheless, there was “no direct result or evidence that proves smokers quit because of the campaign”, it added.