Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, and cigarette smoking causes about one in five deaths each year, accounting for more than 480,000 deaths annually (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention n.d.). While cigarette smoking was first linked to lung cancer in 1950, the health hazards of passive smoke exposure was later established in the 1990s, and has been proven to cause death from lung cancer and heart disease (Brownson et al. 1992, p.99). In addition, the children of parents who smoke, and are therefore exposed to secondhand smoke, have a higher frequency of respiratory infections and decreased lung function as the lungs mature (Brownson et al. 1992, p.99).
Although public knowledge and beliefs about the harmful effects of smoking and secondhand smoke has increased substantially over the last century, tobacco control is still a severe global problem. In Chile, more than 55,000 children, aged between 10-14 years old, and 3,927,000 adults, aged 15 and above, continue to use tobacco each day (The Tobacco Atlas n.d.). In response to these alarming statistics, the Chilean Corporation Against Cancer (CONAC) launched a series of two provocative posters aimed to raise awareness of the adverse effects of secondhand smoke and urge citizens, and parents in particular, to quit smoking.
CONAC is a private non-profit entity dedicated to serve their community through education, prevention, early diagnosis, cancer research and treatment (Corporacion Nacional del Cancer n.d.). The posters designed by Foote, Cone & Belding (FCB), one of the largest global advertising agency networks, depict two distressed and crying boys, each shrouded in a cloud of smoke resembling a plastic bag (Ads of the World 2008). The posters are shockingly realistic as the smoke looks like a real plastic bag choking the boys – a provocative and therefore impactful image effective in capturing attention and evoking shock and empathy. Visually, the contrast of the boys and the white smoke against a black background emphasises their distraught faces and illustrates the consequence of secondhand smoke on children. Although there is no explicit call to action after the caption, “Smoking isn’t just suicide. It’s murder”, the implied message is smoking cessation.
There is evidence that comprehensive tobacco control programmes featuring mass media campaigns, like the posters above, can be effective in changing smoking behaviour in adults (Bala, Strzeszynski & Cahill 2009, p.2). Although the posters faced criticisms of being controversial for using images of distressed children and being too graphic and hyperrealistic, they are memorable, impactful and speak to both logic and emotion – which is essential for a successful design initiative among the masses of mundane and repetitive material warning against tobacco use.
Ads of the World 2008, CONAC, viewed 10 January 2019, <https://www.adsoftheworld.com/media/print/conac_brown>.
Bala, M., Strzeszynski, L. & Cahill, K. 2009, ‘Mass media interventions for smoking cessation in adults’, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2008, no. 1, pp. 1-66.
Brownson, R.C., Jackson-Thompson, J., Wilkerson, J.C., Davis, J.R., Owens, N.W. & Fisher, E.B. 1992, ‘Demographic and Socioeconomic Differences in Beliefs about the Health Effects of Smoking’, American Journal of Public Health, vol. 82, no. 1, pp 99-103.
Caffarena, P. 2008, Smoking isn’t just suicide. It’s murder., Ads of the World, viewed 10 January 2019, <https://www.adsoftheworld.com/media/print/conac_blonde>.
Caffarena, P. 2008, Smoking isn’t just suicide. It’s murder., Ads of the World, viewed 10 January 2019, <https://www.adsoftheworld.com/media/print/conac_brown>.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention n.d., Tobacco-Related Mortality, viewed 11 January 2019, <https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/health_effects/tobacco_related_mortality/index.htm>.
Corporacion Nacional del Cancer n.d., About us, Chile, viewed 10 January 2019, <http://www.conac.cl/quienes_somos.php>.
The Tobacco Atlas n.d., Chile, viewed 11 January 2019, <https://tobaccoatlas.org/country/chile/>.