Scare tactics cut smoking rates in Australia to all time low

BMJ 1999; 318 doi: (Published 05 June 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;318:1508
  1. Simon Chapman
  1. Sydney

    Australia's smoking rate, which was stalled throughout the 1990s with around 25%of adults found in several surveys to be smoking, has recommenced its downward slide. The national prevalence of adult smoking has now fallen to 22%the lowest figure ever recorded.

    Australia, like the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States had experienced a decade long lull in its decline in the prevalence of smoking.

    On World No Tobacco Day this week, health minister Michael Wooldridge announced the results of the evaluation of the controversial “Every cigarette is doing you damage” national media campaign which ran from June to November 1997, and which cost $A7m (£2.9m; $4.6m).

    The campaign has run sporadically since 1997. The television advertisements took viewers inside the bodies of smokers in their 30s to see the damage caused by smoking.

    The advertisement found to be most motivating to smokers showed a surgeon's gloved hand squeezing a yellow atheroma out of an aorta at necropsy. Described by smokers as something you “see once and never forget,” the advertisements have renewed debate about the conventional wisdom that scare tactics “don't work” in health promotion.

    Scare campaigns have also been used to spearhead the public awareness component of Australia's road safety campaign, which has similarly seen the toll of road deaths reach its lowest point.

    All of the antismoking television advertisements gave viewers a telephone number on quitting smoking; the evaluation of the campaign reports that 1 in 4 callers continued to abstain from smoking one year later.

    Although the campaign was targeted at adult smokers, evidence emerged that it had also had a powerful effect on teenagers. The campaign is now being run in Massachusetts, United States; Singapore; New Zealand; and British Columbia.

    In September last year, deregulation of nicotine replacement treatment saw two pharmaceutical companies, Pharmacia Upjohn and SmithKline Beecham, together spend more than the government on advertising directly to consumers. Sales of nicotine replacement therapy aids rose spectacularly as a result.

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