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Last Updated: Wednesday, 31 December 2003, 16:41 GMT
Smoking gets in your eyes
Magazine's review of advertising

BHF posters
The teaser...
THE PRODUCT: British Heart Foundation's anti-smoking campaign

THE BRIEF: Warn smokers that cigarettes can give them heart attacks as well as cancer

THE MEDIUM: TV, print, outdoor, internet, beer mats

THE SCRIPT: As a group of young smokers puff away, a lard-type substance drips from their cigarettes, symbolising what happens inside smokers' arteries. A pathologist's hand is seen squeezing out similar lard from what is claimed is an artery of a 32-year-old smoker.

The TV commercials, which are being broadcast from New Year's Day to maximise smokers' New Year's resolve, are the latest in a long line of shock tactics used in promotion of good causes. They follow a campaign of "teasers", unexplained posters of cigarettes around the country, designed to arouse curiosity. (This was, after all, the year in which tobacco advertising was banned, making posters of cigarettes something of a rarity.)

Grab from Australian anti-smoking campaign
How the Australians saw it
The TV ads reveal what the tease has been for, in pretty grim style. A series of three adverts will be shown on television throughout January. Up to 2,500 billboards round the country will reinforce the image of fat dripping out of a cigarette; it is hoped that in spite of years of tobacco advertising, smokers will come to link seeing a cigarette with the image of the fat in the artery.

Beer mats will be put in pubs, in an attempt to reach smokers at their "trigger points". A website gives advice on quitting, a calculator to see how much money the habit costs, and tips for keeping hands busy.

The British Heart Foundation, funded by the Department of Health to run this 4m campaign, is unapologetic about its shock tactics, saying there is good evidence it will be successful in putting smokers off.

Similar adverts, featuring "clogged" arteries, have been run in a dozen other countries. When they were first used in Australia, 190,000 smokers reportedly gave up for at least a month.

A spokeswoman for the BHF says the advert was shown to a focus group of smokers. Two weeks later, group members were asked if they remembered the ad; the smokers not only remembered the advert, but had not smoked since seeing it.

Part of the challenge for the campaign is not simply to shock smokers, but to make them think about smoking in a different way.

"This is not a competition," the spokeswoman says. "But smokers have put cigarettes in the 'cancer box'. Whatever warning is put on cigarette boxes, the thing they think is going to get them is cancer."

Yet the BHF's annual smoking statistics, also released on New Year's Day, indicate that more people worldwide die from smoking than from cancer. In the UK, 114,000 people a year die from heart attacks, and 30,000 of these are from heart disease.

BHF website grab
What that cig is doing to you
Another challenge for charities and health educators is how to shock an audience sufficiently to get the message over, but without causing offence or going over the top. Smokers may well remember a classic health promotion advert of a petri dish full of tar from a smoker's lung - a shocking enough image. But the real trick is converting that shock into action.

The recent Barnados advert showing a cockroach coming out of a baby's mouth illustrates the danger - it got a mixed critical reaction, and when advertising watchdogs banned it following hundreds of complaints, the advert rather than child poverty became the story.

The BHF, though, is convinced in its approach, not least because of the number of adverts currently showing for commercial products such as patches to help smokers quit.

"This is a great time to be talking to smokers," the spokeswoman says. "This is the time the charity thought we would be getting maximum bang for the Department of Health's buck."

Ad Breakdown is after examples of adverts you see, whether on television, in the cinema, on posters or in print. So if you see an advert you either love or hate, tell us about it using the form below.

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