The tobacco industry invests heavily in marketing their products and spends billions of dollars each year to ensure their advertisements are effective in recruiting new smokers and maintaining the loyalty of veteran smokers (1). These ads have played a huge role in shaping the image of the smoker into someone positive and desirable. The men in these ads are portrayed as masculine, charismatic, and desirable to women, while the women featured in the ads are beautiful, sexy, and independent. Since the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act in 1970 banned cigarette advertisements from American radio and television and the 1997 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement further regulated tobacco advertising, tobacco ads are much less prominent in the media. However, advertisements have not completely disappeared from magazines, point-of-sale store windows, and mailers. Furthermore, the image of the smoker as a rebel lives on in the media, reflected with high visibility in rock stars and in movies. When millions of people see these beautiful and talented celebrities smoking, it’s difficult for young people to believe these cigarettes can make anyone unattractive.
The anti-tobacco advertisements in this theme attempt to counter that very notion. According to the ads in this theme, “smoking makes you ugly.” Smoking can make a person physically ugly by changing the person’s appearance, such as discoloring teeth, aging skin,or causing bad breath. Smoking can also make a person unattractive socially, and these ads try to convince their audience that, contrary to tobacco industry advertisements, cigarettes do not make a person look sexy.
Aspects that affect the social image of adolescents are significant factors in many of the decisions and actions adolescents make. Being attractive to the opposite sex is related to social image, and for some middle adolescents (high school age), smoking is thought to make this goal more attainable (2, 3). Thus, young smokers are susceptible to the portrayal of smokers as attractive in the media, and it is important to address this in anti-smoking campaigns.
However, the theme of attractiveness has similar qualities to ads that stress long-term health effects and social image. Unfortunately, these kinds of ads seem to have limited effectiveness on the youth population. According to Goldman & Glantz 1998, ads that stress the long-term effects of smoking are moderately effective among adults, but not effective on youth populations (4). Most young smokers are aware of the health threats of smoking but, at the moment, they see no signs of these effects in themselves or in their peers, and it is difficult for them to find truth in what appear to be empty threats. Adolescents often feel invincible and many believe they will be able to quit before they are affected. Ads that threaten romantic rejection by smoking, which is implied in many of these ads about attractiveness and appearance, have been found to be ineffective in either youth or adult populations (4). Anti-smoking messages that attempt to denormalize smoking need to show teens, rather than tell them, that smoking does not improve their social image.
One other point to consider about these anti-smoking ads is the attractiveness level of the model. People are more willing to overlook negative habits like smoking when a person is attractive. If the model is more attractive in the ad, the ad will also be better recalled. Thus, these ads may be more effective if they show the transformation of a beautiful person into someone hideous as a result of smoking. The transformation must be something believable, like a personal testament or before-and-after pictures, because the claims must override what people see in reality, which are usually no immediate effects from smoking (5).
1. Aloise-Young PA, Hennigan KM, Graham JW. Role of the Self-Image and Smoker
Stereotype in Smoking Onset During Early Adolescence: A Longitudinal Study. Health Psychology 1996; 15(6): 494-497.
2. Barton J, Chassin L, Presson CC, Sherman SJ. Social Image Factors as Motivators of
Smoking Initiation in Early and Middle Adolescence. Child Development 1982; 53(6): 1499-1511.
3. Federal Trade Commission. Cigarette Report for 2006. Issued August 2009.
4.Goldman LK, Glantz SA. Evaluation of Antismoking Advertising Campaigns. JAMA
1998; 279: 772-777.
4.Shadel WG, Craig SF, Tharp-Taylor S. Uncovering the most effective active
ingredients of antismoking public service announcements: The role of actor and message characteristics. Nicotine Tob Res 2009; 11(5): 547-552.