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Advertising and the war against tobacco

What gets young people into tobacco? According to the World Health Organization, one third of youngsters experiment with smoking because of exposures to tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. 

So for "World No Tobacco Day" on May 31, the WHO is calling for a global ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. In countries where such bans already exist, tobacco consumption has already decreased by an average of 7 per cent, according to WHO. In Turkey, bans (combined with other control measures) have cut tobacco use by more than 13 per cent since 2008.

But of course, advertising is also being used as a tool for persuading people to butt out — and some countries have fully embraced TV spots as a vehicle for scaring the bejesus out of people in the name of public health.

Over at the Guardian, contributor Arwa Mahdawi is convinced that Australia "produces some of the most gruesome social marketing in the world." 

Exhibit A:


Mahdawi also compiled a few anti-smoking ads from other countries that have turned to the scare-em-to-health tactic. This one from the United Kingdom shows a bloody tumour blossoming on the end of a cigarette:


And this one, Mahdawi writes, aired in New York in 2009 but was actually borrowed from a non-profit organization based in — where else — Australia:


But do these kinds of ads work? Some say no. But Mahdawi, a consultant at Contagious Magazine, points out that Australia has some of the lowest smoking rates worldwide (roughly 16 per cent, down from 34 per cent in 1980). This study in the British Medical Journal also suggests that scare tactics have effectively reduced smoking rates in Australia.

"While individual campaigns can't take all the credit for this decrease, they have certainly played some part," Mahdawi writes in the Guardian. "In any case, they've left an impression on me."

"I haven't lived in Oz for some years now, but I still get the occasional nightmare with 'Authorized by the Australian government, Canberra' tagged on at the end."

Jennifer Yang is the Star’s global health reporter. She previously worked as a general assignment reporter and won a NNA in 2011 for her explanatory piece on the Chilean mining disaster. Follow her on Twitter: @jyangstar


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