History of Medicine
Despite the pervasive presence of cigarette smoking in popular culture, and its role as a generational marker, historians have argued that the marketing efforts of tobacco giants never fully legitimized the image of the smoker, with some suspicion that they never intended to. In fact, the seductive quality of smoking cigarettes has often been used as a subtle marketing strategy, emphasizing an association with transgression, defiance, and rebellion. Visual representations of smokers have frequently underscored the guilty pleasure they experience by associating smoking with committing an illicit act. The images of smokers below illustrate how anti-smoking campaigns have countered this phenomenon by using three main strategies: 1) appealing to individual and social responsibility; 2) emphasizing evidence from medical research; and 3) deglamorizing the smoker. These images showcase a variety of marketing techniques used to reduce tobacco use by combining information, images, emotional appeals, and psychological tools to influence viewers.
This poster was created by the World Health Organization, which first took a public position against smoking in the 1970s and subsequently helped countries develop a national plan of action against smoking worldwide. The contrast between the black and white photograph and the color background in this poster reflects the contradictory meanings conveyed by image and text. The poster uses phrasing to challenge the cultural meaning conveyed by the act of smoking. The image of an anonymous and partially lit face in profile, with a hand holding a cigarette up to the lips, evokes the allure and slightly illicit sexiness frequently associated with cigarette smoking in advertising and film. Meanwhile, the bold red lettering expresses an opposite message -- that cigarettes are man made killers. There is also a unifying message between image and text, tied to a common theme in commercial advertising: consumer choice. The poster tells the viewer that they can escape the fate tied to the behavior depicted.
Anti-tobacco campaigns have frequently used a deglamorization strategy, which involves challenging the persistent social norm of smoking cultivated by the positive imagery used in the marketing of cigarettes. This poster from the Centers for Disease Control in 1998 uses humor and an edgy layout with bold red lettering set against black and white to deglamorize tobacco use. It suggests that cigarette smoking is ridiculous and unattractive. The face of a teenage boy, who looks into the camera as he is about to light up a cigarette, has been superimposed onto a cigarette butt. The message playfully suggests that smoking makes one look like a "butthead" -- a reference to stupidity or ridiculousness in the common vernacular of teenagers.
With innovative digitally manipulated images, educators and activists can convey traditional public health messages in novel forms. This ad created by the Russian Information Agency, Novotsi, and distributed by the World Health Organization, suggests that tobacco use is dangerous, if not deadly, by manipulating the photo of a man smoking to reveal the intensely striking apparition of a skull behind the melting flesh of his face, which is engulfed in flames rising from his cigarette. Through graphic manipulation, the image associates the act of smoking with self-immolation. The frightening image effectively complements the written message: "Smoke and you will destroy yourself."
The two print ads below use situational approaches to deglamorize tobacco use, as part of the "You're Smart Enough" campaign, created by the Centers for Disease Control in 1998. Independent of the written messages, the photographs of an average teenage student and athlete holding a cigarette in their hands, do not offer a clear message about the behavior depicted. Without reading the text, the viewer may be unable to discern the message, because the photographic subjects are not obviously characterized positively or negatively. Employing a different emphasis than many anti-smoking ads, the decision to smoke, rather than the act of smoking, is stressed. The distinction is subtle but important, especially given the sensitivities of the target audience. The message is empowering rather than reprimanding: choosing to smoke doesn't necessarily make you stupid, but if you are smart you will choose not to smoke.
This advertisement, created by the Pharmacists Planning Service (a non-profit organization which has promoted consumer public health education and pharmaceutical information for over 37 years) and the Interagency Council on Smoking and Health (the first national anti-smoking coalition formed in 1964), associates opposing facial expressions, camera angles, and lighting with the smoker and non-smoker. The dimly lighted profile of the solemn smoker contrasts with the smiling, more brightly lighted face of the non-smoker. Working in tandem with the headline in this ad, the image employs a psychological strategy by appealing to a sense of personal responsibility in the viewer, while offering a message of empowerment. The happy and healthy person inside the smoker is just waiting to get out. There is, however, some tension between the image and the message in the caption at the bottom of the poster, which advises that the smoker should seek help from their pharmacist, not from within, as the image suggests.