History of Medicine
During the 1960s, environmental issues began moving to the forefront of the policy-making agenda. Responding to scientific studies linking air pollution to health issues, public opinion moved Congress into action. Starting with the Clean Air Act of 1963, Congress began funding research programs on air quality problems. In 1967, the Air Quality Control Act established a system for defining standards that limited emissions, setting the stage for a larger federal role in air quality management. The Clean Air Act of 1970 allowed the newly created Environmental Protection Agency to set and enforce national air quality standards. Twice amended in 1977 and 1990, it has become one of the most complex and ambitious pieces of federal legislation dealing with any environmental issue. Its primary goal is the protection of public health from pollutants that find their way into the atmosphere. The American Lung Association (ALA), the oldest voluntary health organization in the United States, created the posters below as part of a series of broad campaigns against the health effects of air pollution. Originally founded in 1904 to fight tuberculosis, the ALA today fights lung disease in all its forms. The ALA still creates a number of extensive poster campaigns targeting environmental health, asthma, and tobacco control.
These 1977 posters illustrate two common techniques in public health advertisements: 1) using a simple photograph of a child to appeal to the adult viewer's sense of accountability; and 2) changing the photograph and content of the poster while preserving the basic style and layout, frequently in an attempt to make a connection with different segments of the viewing population. Without reading the text, these posters featuring photographs of smiling children might address any number of topics. This is part of the attempt to catch the interest of viewers and encourage them to read the text. The message in the headline introduces the issue of air pollution and speaks to the viewer in first person plural in order to create the sense that "we're all in this together." The uncertain smile on the boy in the poster on the left reflects the positive but generalized message that people should do their part to fight air pollution and that their Lung Association is there to support them. The hopeful smile of the child in the poster on the right is combined with the expectation of compliance in the text. While the headline-"We all share the same air"-could reflect a message of general accountability similar to the first poster, the caption beneath the photograph targets the smoker by thanking them "for not smoking." Even here, however, the language is suggestive and encouraging rather than domineering or condescending.
The American Lung Association created this idyllic illustrated poster as part of their environmental health education program in the 1980s. The ALA has been one of the leading public advocates for clean air and pollution control, while serving as a chief source of information and public education on the health hazards of air pollution. This illustration identifies pollution generated by factories, homes, landfills, vehicles, and individuals, with the headline reminding us that this is all part of "The Air We Breathe." The poster offers a cautionary tale about interconnectivity, demonstrating that alongside polluting activities children can be found playing, a man fishing, livestock grazing, and people camping.
In 1985, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported that toxic chemicals found in the air of almost every American home are three times more likely to cause some type of cancer than outdoor pollutants. Two years later, the Indoor Air Quality Act of 1987 was first introduced to Congress to address the pervasive problem of indoor air pollution. A number of indoor air problems were concurrently associated with "sick building syndrome"-a term used to describe situations in which building occupants experience acute health and comfort effects that appear to be linked to time spent in a building, but with no specific illness or cause identified. This poster from the ALA responds to these problems by using an anatomical illustration of "How Indoor Air Pollutants Affect the Body." By diagramming the physiological effects of specific chemicals, this poster, funded by industrial giant Honeywell Incorporated, functions as an important educational and diagnostic tool for employers and employees alike. The anatomical imagery is used to demonstrate how the unsuspecting person can be affected by exposure to airborne pollutants. This lends a degree of scientific authority to the information provided.