Government pushes boundaries again with ‘disgusting’ anti-smoking ad

The agency responsible for public health campaigns, Public Health England, has been raising the stakes each year with its increasingly graphic anti-smoking campaigns and has outdone itself again this year with what its marketing director describes as a “pretty disgusting” ad highlighting how smoking slowly rots your body.

A new online video attempts to demonstrate how smoking causes a slow and steady rotting of internal organs by showing a man spitting out sticky blood and stomach lining whilst puffing on a cigarette. The ad, part of a £2m campaign, follows PHE commissioned research that found significantly higher rates of bone, brain, teeth and eye damage among smokers.

Roll-ups are featured in an attempt to debunk the myth that they are not as unhealthy as cigarettes.

The ad is the third New Year push since PHE and before it the Department of Health returned to shock ads to encourage smokers to quit. A 2013 spot (see below) showed a tumour growing on a cigarette as it was smoked, while last year’s effort linked smoking with brain damage.

Sheila Mitchell, PHE’s marketing director, told Marketing Week: “ [‘We asked ourselves] ‘How far can we push it?’ And that’s what we’re looking at for this one as it is pretty disgusting.

“What we try to do is not shock but prompt what we call pavlovian disgust. It’s about communicating that every cigarette coming out the packet prompts thoughts of gunge and disgust. “

There are no definitive statistics to show whether the decline in smoking has quickened since the return of graphic anti-smoking ads. The number of adults smoking continues to decline, and dropped below 20% of the UK population in 2013 for the first time in 80 years, according to the  University of Central London.

In addition to the online campaign, the ‘tumour’ ad will return to TV screens and an outdoor campaign using the ‘sticky blood’ creative will run throughout January.

2013 ‘Tumor’ ad

2014 ‘Toxic Cycle’ ad

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