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Gory anti-smoking ads encourage kids to quit


Issued by The Cancer Council Victoria

Australia's graphic anti-smoking advertisements aimed at encouraging adult smokers to quit have had an unexpected benefit – new research from the The Cancer Council Victoria has found that gory ads also influence adolescent smokers views on smoking as well.

The research, published in the British Medical Journal's Tobacco Control publication, found that Australian teenagers responded well to television ads from the 'Every Cigarette is Doing You Damage’ campaign, even though the ads weren’t targeted at them. The campaign includes seven ads which show graphic images such as gunk oozing from a smoker’s artery and a blood clot in a smoker’s brain.

The research is based on surveys of around 3700 Victorian students aged between 12 and 17 as well as surveys of 400 adolescents nationally.

Study co-author, Dr Melanie Wakefield, from the Cancer Council’s Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer, says the research has found that the graphic ads had a very high recall amongst adolescents, with 85% of adolescents surveyed said that advertisements made smoking seem less cool and desirable.

The research found that the ads prompted a range of responses in students who smoked, with 18% indicating that the ads helped them to try to quit , while 27% said they had tried to cut down, and 26% saying they’d at least thought about quitting.

Dr Wakefield says the research is important, as it shows that young people are also affected by graphic images that show the real harms of smoking.

""It has been thought that young people see themselves as invincible, and they respond to advertisements that show a negative consequence by saying 'it’ll never happen to me’.""

""However, this research shows that young people have not only taken on board information about the harmful affects of smoking from the  Every Cigarette is Doing you Damage’ campaign, but that the campaign has also made them think about quitting.""

Dr Wakefield says the research may be helpful in the debate about whether anti smoking advertisements should be aimed at discouraging adolescents from starting to smoke, or encouraging adults to quit.

“Youth smoking rates in Australia continue to remain high, especially amongst 16 and 17 year olds, where around a third of teenagers in this age group are smokers.”

 “This new research shows that developing anti-smoking campaigns aimed at adults delivers a  two-for-one’ result – not only do they encourage adults to quit, but there is also a flow-on benefit to adolescents.”

Dr Wakefield also conducted research with adolescent smokers in Australia, the United States and Britain to determine if geography played a part in the type of anti-smoking advertisements that appealed to young people.

Her research clearly established regardless of what country they were from, adolescents responded best to anti smoking ads with graphic images or those that had a personal testimony.

“This confirms that these two advertising approaches – real people telling real stories, or graphic images about the harms caused by smoking – are powerful ways to communicate the harms of smoking to young people.”

Dr Wakefield will be presenting her research findings at an international tobacco conference in Helsinki this weekend.



Study author Dr Melanie Wakefield is available for interview – please contact Zoe Furman on the numbers below to arrange an interview.

The studies Do adult-focussed anti-smoking campaigns have an impact in adolescents? The case of the Australian National Tobacco Campaign and Appraisal of anti-smoking advertising by youth at risk for regular smoking: a comparative study in the United Stated, Australia and Britain were published last week in a special supplement of the British Medical Journal’s Tobacco Control journal. The studies can be viewed online at  http://tc.bmjjournals.com/supplements.shtml

Further information:
Zoe Furman
Media Communications Manager

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