POST B: Does media actually influence tobacco consumerism?

Tobacco usage was a symbol of status growing up as it debuted on Malaysian mainstream media, broadcasting on national television. A notable advertisement which stuck with me was the Malboro one where in the advertisement, you were promised a lifestyle like the one portrayed by the rugged men on horses smoking chased by beautiful women. 11-year-old me would find myself in a dilemma as I pondered why smoking became something so attractive despite the fatal consequences.

Although the society we live in now is more educated about tobacco consumerism, smoking related mortality rates are still prevalent. In 2015, it is said that ‘2.5 million Australians smoke daily’ (Australian Bureau of Statistics. Australian Healthy Survery 2014/15). In America, about ‘480,000 people’ die from smoking (Centers for disease control and prevention, 2018).

Smoking rates in America, 2018.
Centers for disease control and prevention, 2018, ‘Morbidity and Mortality Weekly report’, viewed 19 November 2019, <>.

A decade later from my childhood, instead of glamorising tobacco consumerism, I witnessed mainstream media enter a new age as it is now used to tackle it instead. In 2012, America saw ‘the first-ever paid national tobacco education campaign’ by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The campaign named ‘Tips’ (Tips from former smokers) funded by Affordable ACT care follows and documents real ex-smokers in their deteriorated state as a result from long term smoking. ‘Tips’ primary goal is to create awareness to the risks that smoking holds. Due to the campaign’s success, it has been continued to date. This year, ‘tips’ went further with their initial theme by also including people who have been affected by second-hand smoke.

Their success is owed to the use of highly graphic material in the campaign, as these ex-smokers being documented are essentially on their death beds in worst case disfigured conditions. This plays on the emotions of viewers, often prompting them to be afraid as they empathise in shock. Explicit graphic ads like ‘tips’ have become more common as they are deemed effective if the target client is human. In fact, an academic study by the Cambridge University research team carried out a shock campaign of their own primarily using fear. They found that using this in advertisements ‘significantly increases attention, benefits memory and influences behaviours among students’ (Cambridge university press, 2003).

A screenshot of a before and after of an ex-smoker Terrie from a ‘Tips’ advertisement.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2014, ‘CDC: Tips From Former Smokers – Terrie: Teenager Ad’, Youtube video, viewed 19 November 2019, <>.

Perhaps ‘shock advertising’ could be endorsed more in locations like Central Java instead where tobacco usage is still promoted as a luxury all over Indonesia.

But despite innovate campaigns like ‘tips’, how much can these advertisements impact addicted smokers? Especially if it is only presented via online/tv media which can often be inaccessible.


CDC, 2019, ‘The Burden of Tobacco Smoking’, viewed 19 November 2019, <>.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2014, ‘CDC: Tips From Former Smokers – Terrie: Teenager Ad’, Youtube video, viewed 19 November 2019, <>.

DARREN W. DAHLKRISTINA D. FRANKENBERGE and RAJESH V. MANCHANDA, 2003, ‘Does It Pay to Shock? Reactions to Shocking and Nonshocking Advertising Content among University Students’, University of Cambridge, viewed 19 November 2019, <>.

Heart foundation, 2015, ‘Smoking statistics’, Australian Bureau of Statistics, viewed 19 November 2019 <;.

Hunter Stuart, 2013, ”Tips From Former Smokers’ Ad Campaign Caused 100,000 Smokers To Quit, CDC Estimates’, Huffington Post, viewed 19 November 2019, <>.

Gilling school of public health, 2017, ‘Study evaluates the CDC’s Tips From Former Smokers campaign, finds it an effective smoking cessation program’, viewed 19 November 2019, <>.

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