Do graphic anti-smoking ads work?

When a serious message is to be given, being subtle is not a strength. And if the advertisement is about effects of smoking, graphic images seem to work well.

If you are in India, you will be familiar with the grose and long anti-smoking advertisement that’s shown in cinemas, if the movie contains any smoking scenes.

Anti-smoking ads
India’s Ministry of Health has now picked up a similar line and released another advertisement, which is shorter, to drive home the direct message.

With technical assistance from the World Lung Foundation, the ministry has adapted an Australian ad that shows how smoking cigarettes and bidis leads to the build up of dangerous fatty deposits in the heart, leading to strokes, heart disease and heart attacks.

The campaign, called Artery (video at the end of this article), is timely -  smoking is the second leading cause of cardiovascular disease (CVD), after high blood pressure. One in 10 CVDs are caused by smoking.

According to WHO, heart disease and heart attacks are major causes of mortality in India, and smoking is the main risk factor.

As per the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS-India), 275 million people use tobacco in India. Each year tobacco use kills about 1 million Indians, and one in ten deaths is caused by smoking.

Beedi (a cheaper version of cigarette) are the most popular tobacco product used; beedi account for half of the tobacco products consumed while cigarette consumption is only 14% in India.

Smokers die 6 to 10 years earlier than non-smokers. As per ICMR, the majority of the cardiovascular diseases and lung disorders are directly related to tobacco consumption.

This nationwide campaign is being aired in 17 languages on all major TV channels and will run throughout January and February 2014.

Smokers need to know just how bad smoking is for the body, says Keshav Desiraju, secretary for health for Government of India.

“The ‘Artery’ campaign shows realistically what happens to the heart after years of consuming the toxic and cancerous chemicals found in both cigarette and beedi smoke.”

The campaign was extensively tested in 10 countries including India, by WLF and Cancer Council Victoria.

“In all countries, it emerged as one of the most effective ads for motivating smokers to quit,” says Dr. Nandita Murukutla, Country Director for WLF. “Artery was rated very highly as having a message that was understood, accepted, relevant, and likely to be effective. It also created feelings of concern and discomfort among smokers, and it was likely to be discussed.”

The Australian ad had to be adapted for Indian audience. “The original ad, which was developed in Australia, was adapted for local use,” says Dr. Murukutla.

“This essentially involved replacing all non-Indian people and contexts featured within the original ad with locally relevant people and places. Additionally, since beedi is the primary form of smoking tobacco consumed in India, WLF created two companion versions of the advertisement to depict the harms of smoking on both beedi and cigarette users.”

In India, too many people suffer from the health harms caused due to bidi and cigarette smoking, says Sandra Mullin, Senior Vice President, Policy and Communications for WLF. “And campaigns such as this, would not only warn the public but will also urge them quit before it’s too late”.


(Photo: Kenji Aryan)


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