Media Campaigns

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Call To Action

Governments should fund and/or legislate sustained tobacco control mass media campaigns to inform the public about the harm of tobacco use and to galvanize public support for tobacco control.

Mass media campaigns are among the most effective ways to warn about the dangers of tobacco use, to encourage smoking cessation, and to create support for tobacco control policies.  For years, the tobacco industry used mass media to its advantage in order to present smoking as an attractive and socially-desirable behavior. Now governments and advocates are using this tool to reverse those perceptions and shift behavior.

On TV, in print, and increasingly through innovative uses of internet-based social media platforms, mass media campaigns now use graphic, emotional images and messages that starkly present the health effects of tobacco use. Graphic advertisements convince people about the true dangers of tobacco use, cut through smokers’ defenses, and illustrate the urgent need for tobacco control policies.  Unlike messages that rely on humor or irony, they translate easily and well across languages and cultures. In Senegal and Norway, the “Sponge” campaign generated 63%  and 68% recall, respectively, and motivated 22% (a 144% increase!) and 59% of people to make quit attempts respectively.

Broadcast media should be pressed to provide more free time to anti-tobacco ads. Many countries have this option and fail to use it. For instance, all PSAs (not just anti-tobacco) are allotted 3 percent of free broadcast time in China; in Russia that share is 5 percent. Most notably in Turkey, as part of the comprehensive tobacco control legislation passed in 2008, broadcasters are required to give the government 30 minutes a month of prime-time free PSA time for tobacco control. In countries where tobacco advertising is allowed on television, governments should provide equal time, either in the form of PSAs or paid ads, for anti-tobacco advertising.

Each year, more countries begin using mass media anti-tobacco campaigns, but there are still large rural populations, in Africa and Southeast Asia for example, where people are hard to reach. In such areas, innovative strategies using mobile phones, radio, and print should also be pursued, tested, and refined.


World Health Organization. WHO report on the global tobacco epidemic, 2013: Enforcing bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2013 [cited 2014 May 14]. 

Murukutla N, Perl R, Miao J, Dauharry R, Hamill S, Mullin S. Effect Of The First National Tobacco Control Mass Media Campaign In Senegal. Submitted to Tobacco Control. 2014.

Duke JC, Nonnemaker JM, Davis KC, Watson KA, Farrelly MC. The impact of cessation media messages on cessation-related outcomes: results from a national experiment of smokers. American journal of health promotion : AJHP. 2014;28(4):242-50.

Davis KC, Nonnemaker JM, Farrelly MC, Niederdeppe J. Exploring differences in smokers’ perceptions of the effectiveness of cessation media messages. Tobacco control. 2011;20(1):26-33.

Durkin S, Brennan E, Wakefield M. Mass media campaigns to promote smoking cessation among adults: an integrative review. Tobacco control. 2012;21(2):127-38.

Hamill S, Turk T, Murukutla N, Ghamrawy M, Mullin S. I ‘like’ MPOWER: using Facebook, online ads and new media to mobilise tobacco control communities in low-income and middle-income countries. Tobacco control. 2013.

Wakefield M, Bayly M, Durkin S, Cotter T, Mullin S, Warne C. Smokers’ responses to television advertisements about the serious harms of tobacco use: pre-testing results from 10 low- to middle-income countries. Tobacco control. 2013;22(1):24-31.

Perl R, Stebenkova L, Morozova I, Murukutla N, Kochetova V, Kotov A, et al. Mass media campaigns within reach: effective efforts with limited resources in Russia’s capital city. Tobacco control. 2011;20(6):439-41.

World Lung Foundation. Turkish Ministry of Health. 2008, 2009 [cited 2014 July 11]. 

Graphic Advertisements

TV is the most effective medium for anti-tobacco advertising. In low-income countries where TV may have more limited reach, radio can be an alternative as well as being less expensive.

Ads with visceral images are the most effective at cutting through smokers’ defenses.



World Lung Foundation.

Global Reach

Graphic TV ads such as “Sponge”, produced by Cancer Institute (NSW) Australia, translate easily and are effectively used in many countries.

Governments around the world should adapt existing, proven mass media campaigns to implement cost-effective and impactful campaigns.



Copyright Cancer Institute (NSW), Australia; World Lung Foundation

Social media campaigns

“Smoking Kid” Video, Thailand: 2012 (top images) and “Tips from Former Smokers” Campaign, USA: 2012-2014 (bottom images)



Catch phrase: “If it’s so bad, why are you smoking?”

When children approached the adult smokers for a light, the adults refused and reminded them that smoking is bad. The children gave each adult a note saying, “You worry about me. Why not about yourself?” Then almost every adult paused and
threw away their cigarette. This emotional anti-smoking ad led to a 40% increase in national quitline calls as well as over 5 million YouTube views within 10 days.


The 2012–2014 CDC campaign, “Tips from Former Smokers,” included ads on TV, radio, billboards, YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, featuring hard-hitting, graphic stories told by former smokers.

Global Reach: Sponge

“Lungs are like sponges. If you could wring out the cancer-producing tar that goes into the lungs of a pack-a-day smoker every day, this is how much you would get.”



Copyright Cancer Institute (NSW), Australia

National Senegalese Quitline

Calls to the National Senegalese Quitline Before and During a Mass Media Campaign in 2013


“Sponge” Campaign resulted in a near 600 % increase in calls to the national quitline in Senegal. Campaigns aired in April and May 2013.



World Lung Foundation. 2013.

Senegal’s Ministry of Health and Prevention.

Cancer Institute (NSW), Australia.

TV/Radio impact

Percentage of adults who noticed anti-cigarette smoking information on the television or radio

Effectiveness of anti-tobacco campaigns varies widely and depends on the actual content of the advertisements, number of plays they receive on radio or TV, the percentage of the population with access to radio or TV, and other factors.

“Governments are seeing value in their investments, particularly in generating support for tobacco control policies and prompting quit attempts…. Our objective is to help countries become self-sufficient in the use of counter-marketing strategies. The sooner governments start using these tools, the more lives will be saved.” –Sandra Mullin, Senior Vice President, Policy & Communications, World Lung Foundation, 2014

Anti-tobacco mass media campaigns

National anti-tobacco campaigns with appropriate characteristics, number of countries by income status, Global 2011-2012

High-income countries are the most likely to have implemented campaigns that match the highest level of best practice, including airing on TV and/or radio.

“… two-thirds of countries [in the world] – including nearly 75 percent of low-income countries – have yet to implement any national mass media campaigns to inform people about the harms of tobacco use or encourage them to quit”
–World Health Organization, 2013.


Since 2007, the World Lung Foundation (WLF) has advocated for the enforcement of stronger tobacco control laws in more than 43 cities in China.

Working in partnership with national and subnational government partners, WLF’s campaigns have been seen by more than 300 million Chinese citizens.

Advertising executive Jeff Hicks points out, “The biggest mistakes you can make is to tell kids not to smoke, tell kids it’s bad for them, tell them it’s an adult decision, tell them ‘smoking’s not cool,’ and then the other worst, worst thing[,] which a lot of people do, is take ‘adult’ messages and put it in the mouths of children . . . Like Philip Morris ads are doing right now: ‘Hey, I don’t need to smoke to be cool.’ And kids are, like, ‘Yeah, right!’ You know, they see through that so fast”

In response to the British American Tobacco Bangladesh’s youth tobacco prevention campaign, a 14-year old male student commented, ““If a cigarette company said not to smoke, I would be astonished, and would think that they have concerts and ads to promote cigarettes, yet are telling me not to smoke.”

In response to the British American Tobacco Bangladesh’s youth tobacco prevention campaign, a 13-year old male student commented, “If cigarette companies said not to smoke, I’d be really upset. Because they’re producing life-destroying products, then saying they’re forbidden.”

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