Puss-filled blistering lips. Rotting teeth. Lungs drowned in tar. Children crying as they mourn their parents.
Although it may sound like a horror film, these images are the reality of Australian anti-smoking TV advertisements. Not only does the Australian Government attack the wallet of smokers with increased cigarette taxes, these mini films aggressively tug at the publics emotions. Targeted at 18-40 year olds, these ads display the gruesome effects of smoking, such as amputated limbs, an immobile person dependent on a ventilator, and a cancer-infested tongue (Tobacco in Australia, 2007). Furthermore, these advertisements prey on the feeling of guilt and sadness, emphasising the effects that the smokers health, and potential death, will have on their loved ones. Although some may deem these ads as overly manipulative, the shock value strategy in TV advertising has proven to be effective in raising awareness and reducing the desire to smoke (Arwa Mahdawi, 2013).
(Screenshots from Australian anti smoking advertisements, 2013).
However, these “maddeningly manipulative” ads have caused backlash with the public audience over the years of airing (Joel Keller, 2015) . An issue with this public health strategy is that it does not exclusively effect the target audience – that being smokers. Children and non-smokers are exposed to graphic images that can not be unseen, placing a heavy weight on their emotions. This strategy has been scrutinised by some as inefficient and a harmful use of campaign resources and funds (Andrew Gelman, 2015).
Since the 1990’s, creating and funding anti-smoking TV advertisements has been a collaborative effort between independent Australia Quit campaigns and the Commonwealth, to create National Tobacco Campaigns (Tobacco in Australia, 2007). The heart-wrenching mini films are a result of an interdisciplinary group – The health department works alongside experts in creative fields such as film, directing and costuming in order to create an authentic and effective story. It is essential that the films capture the truth about smoking, emphasising not only the health impact but the emotional turmoil that is involved in tobacco use.
Since 1995, The Australian Government has allocated funds and made a commitment to combining the tobacco control expertise and resources nation wide to create a collaborative national anti-smoking campaign. The strategy of TV advertising has been extensively funded by the Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care – In it’s initial months of the campaign (1997 June -October), 75% of $4.5million allocated for advertising, was used. This nation wide effort and collaboration amongst states has been a great strength of this strategy in ensuring its effectiveness. (Tobacco in Australia, 2007).
Australia’s anti-smoking scare tactics have been commended on a global scale – such gruesome advertisements have become an export for Australia. In 2009, the New York City Department of Health used an Australian ad of a young boy crying at busy train station after losing sight of his mum (created by Cancer Council Victoria) (Arwa Mahdawi, 2013).The close up of the child showcased genuine tears and fear as the small boy was left alone, unaware that it was staged for filming purposes. The creative choices for filming purposes did produce a truly impactful film, which were followed by a voiceover, “If this is how your child feels after losing you for a minute, just imagine if they lost you for life.” Although this advertisement was deemed successful in reaching audiences on an emotional level, and thus educating and deterring people away from smoking, there were moral implications brought up through numerous audience complaints.
Overall, Australia’s shock TV advertisements have been proven an effective tobacco control strategy. Although they have been deemed overly aggressive, manipulative and gruesome – perhaps this is what is needed to tackle an equally aggressive global health issue which kills thousands of people yearly.
Tobacco in Australia 2007, Tobacco Control campaigns in Australia: Experience, viewed 27 November 2018, < http://www.tobaccoinaustralia.org.au/14-3-tobacco-control-campaigns-in-australia-experi>
Arwa Mahdawi 2013, Does Australia Have the Most Gruesome Public Advertising in the World?, viewed 27 November 2018,
Joel Keller 2015, Preemies Should Not Be Props, viewed 27 November 2018, < https://slate.com/technology/2015/10/preemie-anti-smoking-psa-is-wrong-ineffective-and-offensive.html>
Andrew Gellman 2015, How Effective are Anti Smoking Ads?, viewed 27 November 2018, < https://www.thedailybeast.com/how-effective-are-anti-smoking-ads>