Seeing Through The Cloud of Smoke

Anti-smoking campaigns have been around for decades. For the past half century or so, tobacco companies have faced fierce campaigning, taxation, and legal reform from governments and independent organisations across the world. This has been effective, dropping from 45.4% in 1977 (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2000) to 14.5% in 2015 (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2017). Smoking campaigns have always followed the ‘smoking kills’ notion, which is of course true; however US design firm Bandujo nearly doubled hotline call rates in New York with a single campaign commissioned by the New York state government. Los Angeles later requested use of the campaign and had similar results (Bandujo 2017). 


Banjudo 2017.

The ‘Suffering’ campaign draws on the fact that smokers know that smoking tobacco is bad for them. They know the ‘smoking kills’ routine, and to be fair, that message has been the basis for just about every anti-smoking campaign I have seen. The campaign instead focuses on the gradual, yet painful descent into poor health resultant of smoking, using harrowing images and messages to reinforce the message that it’s not about premature death, its about the months, if not years of physical and mental suffering that precedes it (West 2017). 

In health-related advertising, fear is proven to be an effective tool, doubly effective when compared to incentive-based advertising (Manyiwa, S. Brennan, R. 2012). The ‘carrot or the stick’ model, though is seems trivial, is an accurate visualisation of how the campaign works. The only difference is that this time, the stick is not a quick poke, but rather a slow plunge, and we all know which of the two is preferable. Though incentive-based advertising (for better health, as in this case) are necessary, they lack the ability to instil any feeling of necessity to act into the viewer (O’Keefe 2016). 


Banjudo 2017.

The concept only accounts for half of the success, however. The implementation of the campaign was thorough; posters, bus stops, billboards, online ads, videos, as well as other miscellaneous print examples were distributed citywide, often occupying public spaces through which a significant amount of pedestrian and vehicle traffic passes through daily. The haunting stares of people in pain exude from bus stops and billboards, looking straight into the eyes of passersby. Smoker or not, the images are designed to capture and hold your gaze, and do so effectively, setting the standard for how advertising should be able to evoke a response in a stubborn target. The campaign exemplifies how the tobacco industry can be targeted by good designers, and how design has the power to influence global issues.



Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2000, Health Risk Factors: Trends in smoking, viewed 18 December 2017 <!OpenDocument>

Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2017, Australian smoking rates falling, viewed 18 December 2017 <>

Banjudo, 2017 New York City Anti-Smoking Campaign, viewed 18 December 2017 <>

West, R. 2017  ‘Tobacco smoking: Health impact, prevalence, correlates and interventions’, Psychology & Health, Vol 32. Issue 32. pp. 1018-1036

Manyiwa, S. Brennan, R. 2012 ’Fear appeals in anti-smoking advertising:How important is self-efficacy?’ Journal of Marketing Management Vol. 28, pp. 1419–1437

O’Keefe, D. 2016, ‘Evidence-based advertising using persuasion principles: Predictive validity and proof of concept’ European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 50, Issue 1/2, pp. 294-300.

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