Countdown synopsis: Tobacco is the single biggest cause of cancer in the world, killing nearly 6 million people each year – with half of its users gradually being killed by smoking-related diseases. In order to tackle tobacco use and highlight its consequences on not just smokers themselves, but also others around them, hard-hitting anti-tobacco advertisements have been created to graphically portray the consequences of smoking. This countdown includes 40 of the most graphic, shocking and effective anti-smoking commercials to have ever been produced.
“My tip to you is, don’t start smoking. And if you do smoke, quit. And don’t give up at one try. Keep trying until you succeed. I don’t want anybody to have to go through what I’m going through.”
– Terrie Hall, anti-smoking advocate (1960 – 2013)
40: “Skin” – US Food and Drug Administration, 2014 (USA)
First on the list is a mild-grotesque yet bizarrely brilliant way to advertise to the youths of America “the real cost” of using tobacco. A girl walks into a store (no, this is not one of those corny jokes) and casually asks for a pack of cigarettes, handing over her cash. But when the cashier tells her that she “need(s) a little more, honey” that’s when things start to get a bit – strange. The girl begins to peel off the skin on her cheek – as if it was made of plasticine – to place it next to her money on the counter. This girl must have claws like Wolverine, or fingers like Edward Scissorhands to peel her flesh off so easily. The cashier then accepts this magnificent sacrifice and hands over the ciggies. Which leaves me thinking, what some sort of store is this? Looks like it is run by mad, psychopathic cannibals to me. I mean it leaves you questioning doesn’t it – what the hell does the cashier do with the skin afterwards? Does she eat it? Or does she place it into a collective jar with all the other skins of the many other youths that have asked for cigarettes before her? Sorta reminds me of that psychopath Buffalo Bill from ‘Silence Of The Lambs’ who wears the flesh of his female victims if you ask me. “It rubs the lotion on its skin, or else it gets the hose again.“ All in all, not the scariest anti-smoking commercial out there – but damn, is it morbidly original. Remind me to never shop at Jiffy‘s in the future, will you?
39: “The End” – Quit UK, 2011 (UK)
Next on the list is a commercial from Quit UK which is simple, yet brilliant in its approach. Completely shot in black and white, we see a young woman sitting down about to puff on a cigarette as the camera slowly approaches her. She then lifts the cigarette to her lips, and takes a good, prolonged puff. The first time watching this through, it’s hard to notice the fact she develops faint wrinkles around her eyes when she inhales the first time. When she exhales, her skin goes back to its youthful, smooth state. She then repeats again and again, with her wrinkles worsening with every breath, in order to signify the impact smoking has on your youthful skin. The final shot of her wrinkled face is accompanied by the sounds of her heavy, emphysematous breathing – lovely. The tagline then ends with “Smoking ages you by up to 19 years. Look younger, longer.” Although a very basic concept, I think it’s amazing. Seriously, props to the special effects team on this ad – better than most of the CGI you find in films nowadays. Her WHOLE FACE frickin’ wrinkles! Even around her lips! Now that’s talent.
38: “Hooked” – Department of Health, 2007 (UK)
Here’s an ad that caused an absolute uproar in the UK when it first aired back in 2007. If you have watched my TOP 10: MOST CONTROVERSIAL UK TV ADVERTS video, you will know why. This commercial eventually got banned from TV after getting a whopping 774 complaints from viewers who found it “offensive, frightening and distressing – particularly to children.” The posters which accompanied this campaign also got scrapped, too. Apparently seeing someone being pulled through an office by a fishhook through the mouth was terrifying. Come on, the UK! Surely there are worser things out there to complain about than this? I think it’s a good thing to scare a few children with graphic anti-smoking commercials if I’m honest. It worked for me when I was younger. It’s like the British public like to complain about almost anything that upsets them or their children in the slightest way – some people need to get a grip. The best way to keep kids from doing cigarettes, is to scare them sh*tless – am I right, or am I right?
37: “Bodybag” – Truth, 2000 (USA)
‘Truth’ is known for doing their field experiments in order to not only ‘name and shame’ the dodgy things tobacco companies do to promote their products, but to also alert the general public of their wicked ways. In this particular commercial, we see a couple of white trucks pull up outside a ‘major tobacco company’. Frantically, we then see the occupants rush out to deliver some very important packages for the company – bodybags – 1,200 of them in fact. A guy on a speakerphone then shamefully ridicules the censored faces of the workers inside the building, asking “Do you know how many people tobacco kills every day? … 20, 30, 100?” . Turns out it is a lot more than we thought, as we see in perspective what 1,200 people actually look like, and it is quite astonishing. We numerically see “1,200 people” and think it’s not that many – but we’d be wrong. Very wrong. I’m not sure whether I agree on leaving all the bodybags out there, though. It’s almost like littering. Like seriously, who is going to clean all those bodybags up? I wonder if that tobacco company actually sued them for piling all those bodybags outside? We may never know the truth. Haha. Do you get it? Truth? Okay, I’ll stop. Moving on.
36: “Sponge” – Australian National Preventive Health Agency, 2007 (Australia)
Next up is one of many advertisements created by ANPHA of Australia to graphically show the effects of smoking on the body, usually through very gruesome visual representations. If you think this commercial is bad, wait until we get to the ones where they start cutting up real smokers brains, lungs and arteries – yummy! This 2007 advert is a more modern adaptation of the original ‘Sponge’ advert from 1985. In this subtle-yet-still-very-alarming ad, we see a blackened silhouette of an ordinary man standing amongst of wall of eerie chest X-ray pictures, one of which flies into shot covering the man’s chest. A pair of (pretty-realistic) CGI sponges in the shape of a pair of lungs then accompanies it. “Lungs are like sponges, designed to suck up air” says the very serious, monotonic sounding narrator (whose voice works absolutely brilliant with these commercials, I must say!). The silhouette then takes a drag on a fag (that’s British slang for a cigarette, not the other one) of which smoke starts to fill his spongy lungs, causing them to blacken and fill with tar. “But some people use their lungs to suck up cigarette smoke” the chilling voice continues. Up next we have a lovely shot of someone wringing out the tar of one spongy lung, of which it drips into a small beaker below. What is shown in the beaker is the amount of tar that goes into a pack-a-day smoker’s lungs every year. It is very alarming to be honest. ‘The voice’ concludes “It’s enough to make you sick – very sick.” You are right, Mr. Scary Narrator – very right. I don’t think I will be able to look at Nutella in the same way. Thanks. All jokes aside, it is a pretty well-made ad. If I lived in Australia and this ad aired when I was much younger, it probably would have given me the willies.
35: “Smoking Kids” – Department of Health, 2004 (UK)
Ahhhh, one of the many frightening anti-smoking commercials of my childhood. I must have been about 9-years-old when this was on TV, and it still haunts me to this day (along with that ‘Janice’ one, but we will get to that later). I don’t think it was so much the visuals of the children breathing out the cigarette smoke that scared me when I was younger, but I think it was the creepy and eerily sung ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ that still sticks with me to this day. As peachypeachypanda once mentioned in one of her reviews (forgotten which one it was, sorry Peachy!) any cheery or nursery song juxtaposed with morbid, creepy images just tends to stick with you better. How wonderfully evil. Now whenever I hear ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ I’m going to think of smoking kids. Cheers for that. In all seriousness, if you are going to smoke, do not smoke around your children. Secondhand smoke can be just as deadly. You wouldn’t give your 7-year-old son your cigarette to puff on, would you?
34: “4,000 Chemicals” – ANPHA, 2011 (Australia)
Another anti-smoking commercial courtesy of our lovely Aussies at ANPHA. This one isn’t as morbid as the ‘Sponge’ one though, but it is still rather sinister. We see a young woman just casually puffing away at what turns out to be a test tube full of Ammonia, Acetone, Benzene, and Hydrogen Cyanide – how lovely! Next time I’m in a pub I’ll go and order that for my drink, as it sounds like a very delicious cocktail – right, smokers? “Mmmm… Benzene” (in the voice of Homer Simpson) Seriously… remind me why people smoke again?
33: “1,200” – Truth, 2003 (USA)
Yet we have another commercial from those at ‘Truth’. There is not much to say about this commercial really, so I will keep this one brief. It basically just follows the same concept as that ‘Bodybag’ one, but they use real people instead of bodybags. What makes this commercial slightly creepy are the close-up shots of the emotionless, lifeless expressions of the actors when they drop to the ground. As well as the eerie sound of the traffic light swinging amongst the silence at the end. Kudos to the actors though. It must have been really uncomfortable to lie there motionless on the cold, hard ground. Oh, oh… trouble, trouble, trouble! – Sorry.
32: “Tim” – Massachusetts Department of Public Health, 2002 (USA)
Back to America again for another one. This time this ad is brought to us by that very-hard-to-spell-regardless-of-how-many-times-I-look-it-up-on-Google state of America, Massachusetts. This advert shows a young man named Tim Ward, who is a Field Chemist trained to clean up chemical spills – dangerous! He is interviewed about his usual practises when cleaning up dangerous chemicals, especially Benzene, which causes cancer. He then uses his Analyser-thingy to measure the amount of Benzene in the smoke of a burning cigarette – and the results are alarming. Although it’s a very simple ad, I really like this one – as well as the other two with the Mortician and the Chemist. The fact cigarette smoke contains the same amount of radioactive Benzene as on a typical chemical spill, well… it makes me want to wear a face mask for the rest of my life. We also had a similar campaign to this one here in the UK a while back, called something like “Where there’s smoke, there’s poison” if my memory serves me. “Are you worried?” the interviewer asks… “I’m worried now.” Tim says. Aren’t we all, Tim. Aren’t we all.
31: “Anthem” – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2012 (USA)
Now we get to the real sh*t. Take everything you knew about the consequences of smoking and eat it – because the commercials from the ‘Tips from former smokers’ CDC campaign are a mouthful. Boy, they’re a mouthful. What we see in many of these commercials are laryngectomees sharing ‘tips’ with current smokers – a sort of ‘heads up’ for what’s to come – such as “When you have a hole in your neck, don’t face the shower head” and to “crouch – don’t bend over. You don’t want to lose the food in your stomach.” But personally, I think this commercial is just the tip of the iceberg. The commercials featuring the late Terrie Hall are not only heart wrenching, but very, very eye-opening.
30: “Before It’s Too Late” – Ministry of Health & Welfare, 2014 (Korea)
Like it says in the video, this commercial is Korean. With special thanks to a few lovely contributors, subtitles are now available in the video’s Closed Captions on YouTube (Part 2). But if you are too lazy to make your way over there, here is a rough translation: “You know, it is hard to quit smoking. So I didn’t give up. But I do know for sure, that now it is much more difficult.” Anyway, I did have a sort of fright when watching this commercial for the first time. When the drooped face of the young man suddenly appears out of nowhere, it was quite creepy. All in all, wicked use of CGI here – hats off to the Koreans. Although their Northern Counterpart may be a bit dodgy, look at those graphics! It actually feels like I am experiencing X-Ray vision of someone having a real stroke! Brilliant.
29: “Unsweetened Truth” – Truth, 2011 (USA)
Now, I’m not going to lie – this ad is one of my guilty pleasures, it really is. Although I was pretty gobsmacked the first time I saw this ad, it really began growing on me. All I kept on singing to myself was, “Chocolate, vanilla, and cinnamon, / Apple, honey and berry blend” – it is so damn catchy! The reason why it’s Number 29 on the list is obviously because of the unsettling aspect that the whole song is sung by victims of smoke-related illnesses, such as a laryngectomee singing with an electrolarynx and a man strapped to an oxygen machine. But still, that song tho. It’s in my head right now as I type this. Brilliant advert, absolutely brilliant. Morbid – but brilliant.
28: “Candle” – California Department of Public Health, 2010 (USA)
This commercial features anti-smoking advocate Debi Austin, also a laryngectomee who died in February 2013 after years of campaigning against smoking. She went on to inspire millions of people, and stood up to the tobacco industry, and most notoriously appeared in her most well-known “Voicebox” commercial (which we will talk about later). This commercial however, is horrifying. You see Debi addressing to us which might be her “last chance” of warning us about the dangers of smoking. What makes this commercial so poignant, is the fact Debi is struggling to breathe – gasping for air almost after every word – in a very poorly lit room with just a candle used as a source of light. She goes on to say, “Gradually, tobacco took not just my health, but my dreams. Think about what tobacco is taking from you. Quit now, before it’s too late.” What follows after, is probably the most powerful and poignant symbolism I have ever seen in an anti-smoking ad. Debi concludes by coughing through the stoma in her throat, of which subsequently diminishes the flame from the candle, leaving nothing but a small trail of smoke and a haunting piano slam. Very chilling.
27: “Terrie’s Ad” – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2012 (USA)
Now we arrive to one of a few commercials in the countdown featuring who I think is one of the most influential, and inspirational advocates ever, Terrie Hall. In this commercial, following the same format as the other ‘Tips from former smokers‘ ads, Terrie gives smokers “tips” about getting through the morning routine – but as we already know from these commercials, these aren’t ‘ordinary’ tips. She stands in front of a dressing table putting in her teeth (due to losing her real ones from oral cancer, caused by smoking), then her wig (as she endures chemotherapy treatment for her cancer), and inserts her “handsfree device” into the stoma in her throat, after loosing her larynx to throat cancer. Finally, she chillingly concludes with, “And now you’re ready for the day.” There’s not much else I can say for this ad really, as it speaks for itself. If Terrie’s ads don’t make you not want to ever start smoking, or make you want to quit smoking, God knows what will.
26: “Have a smoke” – Ministry of Health, 1999 (Poland)
This advert is very short, but to the point. We see a cigarette being lit by a person offscreen, only for it to turn into a burning candle wick. As the camera moves outwards, we realise the candle is placed on a gravestone in a cemetery. What’s chilling about this ad, is the eerie setting accompanied by the unsettling noise of crows in the background. Almost gives you goosebumps, doesn’t it?
25: “Consequences of Smoking” – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013 (USA)
Another ad from Terrie Hall. This time, she gives smokers another “tip” that they should record their voices for their loved ones while they still have them. “Read a children’s storybook, or sing a lullaby. I wish I had – the only voice my grandson’s ever heard, is this one.” Again, there is not much more for me to say. It’s simply powerful.
24: “Singing Cowboy” – Truth, 2006 (USA)
“You don’t always die from tobacco.” That’s what this ad from ‘Truth’ highlights via the use of more singing laryngectomees. This time, it’s a cowboy on a horse, trotting amongst the traffic of New York City. A curious crowd starts to surround the cowboy and his ‘friend’ (seriously, who is this guy?), who starts playing a typical country-styled guitar jam. The cowboy gets off his horse, and joins his ‘mate’ around a small campfire. A small black girl starts to clap. He then removes the kerchief from around his neck, revealing his stoma. To the crowds astonishment, he whips out his electrolarynx. The small black girl has stopped clapping and now looks bewildered. He then starts singing his ever-so-catchy-yet-morbid-tune about how you “Don’t always die from tobacco – sometimes you just lose a lung. / Oh, you don’t always die from tobacco – sometimes they just snip out your tongue.” Seriously, what person at ‘Truth’ wrote these songs? They are brilliant! We then see a sign hoisted upon a horse that says “Over 8.5 million Americans live with tobacco related illnesses” – which is a staggering amount. Another brilliant and catchy tune, courtesy of our friends at ‘Truth’ – Yippee ki yay!
23: “Toxic Cycle” – Department of Health, 2013 (UK)
Finally, I am back on home turf for this ad. This ad is quite chilling, to me, in terms of the visuals. We first see a man outside his workplace lighting up a cigarette – when he takes a puff, the lights go out. We then see what his innards look like as the tobacco smoke goes into this lungs. The chemicals then enter his bloodstream, blackening his blood, and is pumped to his heart. It’s the gruesome sound of the heart pumping and the visuals of it beating that makes me cringe. The heart then pumps this ‘toxic blood’ to his brain, of which vessels also begin to blacken. And before we get to see anything ‘interesting’ happen, we are back to good ol’ John. At least I think that’s what his name is supposed to be… whatever. Overall, this ad is toxic. Britney Spears eat your heart out!
22: “Icons” – California Department of Public Health, *2006* (USA) ~ Correction
Back to the States for this one. This one also gave me a little ‘jump scare’ when I first watched it. It starts out rather pleasant, we get to see a lovely camel who begins to talk. “Tobacco companies show you images of what life would be like if you smoked…” the camel says. We then hear the camel’s speech fade into that of a cowboy, who then magically appears from the camel’s hump while the set changes from Egyptian to a more Western look. The changing of different personas and sets continue – from a cowboy to a hip hop DJ, and then to a glamorous showgirl. But then behold – the showgirl changes into a real emphysema patient strapped to a heart monitor and an oxygen tank, who sadly passed away within a year of filming. “But the reality is… that you… can end up… looking like… this.” What I find very interesting about this advert is that you can actually hear the beeping of the heart rate monitor from the very beginning. I really like the creative aspect of this advert – it is very clever how they managed to blend in all the personas and into the patient at the end. But seriously guys, do not believe anything tobacco companies try to tell you to get you to buy their products. Next they’ll be telling you that pigs can fly.
21: “Brett’s Ad” – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014 (USA)
This one also left me feeling
happy scarred forever. Yes, it is another one of those ‘Tips from former smokers’ ads again – so stop whining! We hear of a man named Brett who used to smoke, who managed to quit, but only after getting a “serious gum disease” – yeah, you know where this is going, don’t you? “My tip to you is – your smile says a lot about you…” Brett says, who then begins to take out his false teeth. Wait for it… wait for it. “What does this say?” – Brett then shows us whats left of his ‘smile’, of which image has been branded into my mind forever like a blistering hot branding iron to my brain. I cannot get his smile out of my mind, and it is something that will probably haunt me forever, just like the ‘Smoking Children’ ad and the ‘Janice’ one. Ah, Janice. Wait your turn, dear – we will get to you later on. Yay.
20: “Tumour” – Australian National Preventive Health Agency, 1997 (Australia)
Before grammar nazi’s are on my case, tumor is North American and tumour is outside North America – capisce? Okay, glad we sorted that one out. Let’s move on. Now, before we get to lovely Janice, we must first endure another delightful commercial from our lovely friends from down under. I’m speaking of ANPHA, obviously. This commercial is the first of a handful of the notoriously gruesome and sinister “Every cigarette is doing you damage” campaign. Fortunately for you, we don’t get to dissect smoker’s brains – yet. But for now, we just get to become inhaled tobacco smoke to see the effects of smoking close up. Nothing that gruesome on today’s journey though, we just see a cancerous tumour form inside the lungs of a man waiting for the bus. Nothing special. Move along.
19: “Voicebox” – California Department of Public Health, 1996 (USA)
Here we see Debi Austin again, but this time back in 1996 when she appeared in her most notorious commercial ever. We can quite clearly notice the stoma in her throat while she explains that she had her first cigarette at aged 13, “When I found out how bad it was, I tried to quit… but I couldn’t.” What follows is probably the most iconic moment of anti-smoking television commercial history. “They say nicotine isn’t addictive…” Debi says, picking up her smoking cigarette from her ashtray below. She then places the cigarette into the opening of her stoma, and takes a smoke, “… how can they say that?” she concludes, with the cigarette smoke seeping out of her stoma. It’s a very powerful image that will stick in most of our minds forever.
18: “Don’t Smoke” – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014 (USA)
From one very powerful ad, to another. In this commercial, we watch Terrie Hall now hospitalised on a bed, just days before her death. She offers some last advice to both smokers and non-smokers – “My tip to you is, don’t start smoking. And if you do smoke, quit. And don’t give up at one try. Keep trying until you succeed. I don’t want anybody to have to go through what I’m going through.” The fact that Terrie was filmed here, only a few days before her death, is what makes this commercial even more upsetting. There is no denying that Terrie devoted every bit of valuable time she had to teach people about the real consequences of smoking, even up until her final days. In my eyes, this woman was, and always will be, a true hero.
17: “Cigarettes are eating you alive” – NYC Health, 2008 (USA)
Without getting too teary-eyed, we must move on. Now I know what you’re thinking – “How come I am hearing that monotonic narrator from the ANPHA adverts on this AMERICAN commercial?” Well, fun fact: I actually edited the narrator out of ANPHA’s adaptation of ‘Cigarettes are eating you alive’ and put him into the original, NYC Health’s version of the ad. Why? Because I didn’t like the American narrator on the original NYC one, and the NYC one was in HD. And you guys know how much I love my HD content. Now, I have nothing against the American accent obviously, before people get too over-sensitive. It’s just (even though it’s an ad of American origin) I felt like the Aussie guy did it better. That’s why you can hear the original American narrator at the end. It’s like I made my own hybrid-commercial and stuck it in there – genius. Anyways, I’ve waffled on about this ad far too much. In a nutshell: Gory pics. Creepy sounds. More hearty-beaty-cringey stuff. Badass monotone narrator. Graphic metaphor of cigarettes eating you alive like they’re some sort of parasite. What else is there to say?
16: “Fight Back” – Department of Health, 2009 (UK)
Back to us Brits now for a very graphic advert depicting what happens to your body every time you smoke a cigarette – “smoke, and your body takes a beating” – and by God, it really is some beating according to this ad. Firstly, we see a man lighting up a cigarette as he is happily walking down a High Street. “Alright?” he nods to a passerby, who appears to totally ignore him. Yes, the guy is on the phone – but he just completely blanks him! At least nod back or something. Rude. Anyways don’t you just hate it when you’re happily walking down the street minding your own business, then suddenly Casper the ‘Not-so-Friendly’ Ghost starts beating you up? The guy suddenly gets forcefully biffed right in the face by some invisible force, causing him to stagger within a nearby
conveniently placed alleyway and starts spitting out blood – ouch. With blood dripping from his nose and mouth, he continues to mindlessly stagger through the alleyway, before he is pummelled by ‘the force’ again and again, dropping to his knees and eventually ending up on the floor. A few more blood splutters and kicks later, he gets knocked down, but gets back up again – only to be powerfully uppercuted right in the chops, falling to the floor. He gets beaten and battered one more time until a striking kick to the face knocks him out, leaving him looking lifeless, and his lovely pink shirt ruined by bloodstains. That’ll need a few spins in the washing machine to wash that out. “Smoke, and your body takes a beating. Fight back – Quit now” a nonchalant-sounding voiceover says. Why nobody passing by on the street was alarmed by this, I do not know. I mean, it’s like they’re all psychopathic sadists. I bet that Jiffy‘s store from the FDA ‘Skin’ one is probably just down the road from this High Street, too.
15: “Lungs” – Australian National Preventive Health Agency, 1997 (Australia)
If seeing a guy getting brutally beaten up by a poltergeist wasn’t gory enough for you, maybe seeing a CGI demonstration of lungs rotting away from the inside might float your boat a bit more. Yes, it’s back to the eye-watering “Every cigarette is doing you damage” campaign. We see a woman standing outside in the blistering wind, who lights up a cigarette (probably to warm herself up, lolz). Like in all these adverts, we also get sucked in alongside the tobacco smoke so we can have a good look at what the tobacco does to the victim’s entrails – exciting. In this one, we get to graphically see the alveoli of the lungs melt away into a lovely ‘bubbly’ consistency that can only be compared to that of Aero chocolate. That comparison has funnily enough made me feel slightly peckish. Don’t get too hungry yet though, folks – we get to see some fat squeezed out of an artery next. Mmmmm.
14: “Artery” – British Heart Foundation, 2004 (UK)
To those who are currently eating porridge, or anything relatively similar to that consistency, you should probably skip this one. Unless of course you find it appetising seeing a gloopy, fatty deposit squeezed out of an artery of a smoker. This ad was also one of my childhood nightmares. I remember I used to see this one on TV quite a lot, and I used to be terrified of it. And guess which one is next guys – lovely old JANICE. But we are not there yet. So let’s talk about this lovely advert first. We see a traditional English pub – back then there wasn’t a ban on indoor public smoking, so we can clearly see clouds of smoke emanating everywhere – what a lovely breath of fresh air. We also see a group of smokers sat at a table, each taking out a cigarette, some of which seep out the fatty gloop, as a somewhat ‘devil’s advocate’ sits at the bar close by, talking to us about how “every cigarette we smoke makes this ‘fatty stuff’ get stuck in our arteries. Our hearts can’t work properly if our arteries are all clogged up.” We then see this same goo that leaks out the cigarettes, being squeezed out of an artery of a 32-year-old smoker. To this day, I still ponder whether or not that is an actual artery and if that’s actual atheroma being squeezed out. Anyway, what kind of cigarettes are those people smoking? I’ve heard of candy-flavoured cigarettes and menthol cigarettes… but porridge cigarettes? Very innovative, I must say!
13: “Janice” – Department of Health, 2003 (UK)
So, we have finally reached the pinnacle of the sheer terror from my childhood. Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t the only ad to traumatise me for the rest of my life – the ‘Fire Kills’ one where it shows people trapped in burning houses, in addition to the ‘Think!’ seatbelt one where a car crash that killed the unbelted occupants is reversed so they get a ‘second chance’, scarred my innocence, too. But this one – I especially will never forget. This advert features a 51-year-old woman named Janice, who’s struggling for breath (probably due to emphysema caused by smoking), strapped to an oxygen tank with the tubes going up her nose. I will never forget the sound of her haunting breathing until the day I die. The sound you are listening to, is the sound that terrorised my childhood and still unsettles me to this day. Sometimes it just pops into my head, and I can hear it forever echoing. It makes you wonder whether Janice, who would be 62-years-old now, is still alive today. That sound, accompanied by the poorly lit living room, gives a scary sense of isolation. It is absolutely bone-chilling.
12: “Teenage Regrets” – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014 (USA)
Back to Terrie Hall again for one final instalment. I left this as the last Terrie ad in the countdown, because of how remarkably upsetting it truly is. We take a quick glance back on Terrie’s life via a few photographs, while she explains she used to be a very pretty and popular cheerleader during her teens – but this is the time Terrie initially started smoking. “It breaks my heart to see teenagers smoking. Because I started smoking when I was a teenager.” Being a teenager myself (although I only have a year left of being one), I guess I can emotionally connect with this one. I know a few people around my age, even people younger than me, who are smoking. That’s what makes it even more upsetting – knowing that there is a potential there that things could turn out the way they did for Terrie, and the fact that there is a possibility of crippling smoking-related illnesses later on in life, could all be prevented right now if they chose to quit. It’s mad to think that these sort of things almost become full-circle once again: once one person dies from a smoking-related illness, a new person starts smoking. Tobacco use is just one never-ending cycle – unless we take action.
11: “Joanne” – Ministry of Health Ontario, 1994 (Canada)
Almost reflecting Terrie‘s message in the previous entry, we see a pretty young lady, presumably a teenager, walk into her bathroom to smoke a cigarette. I’m not entirely sure why this ad is set in a bathroom, though – I mean there are hundreds of other places to smoke a cigarette, but a bathroom just seems like a very random place to me. Is that what they do in Canada? – Be right back, I’m just going into the bathroom to smoke a cigarette. (I’m joking guys) Anyways back to the girl, she begins to look for her cigarettes in the pockets of her jeans, accompanied by a pleasant song, “Joaaaaaane, let me take your haaaaand” – but we all know what happens to cheery songs in ads like this. When she finds her fags, we begin to hear the horrible screeching sound that gradually cancels out the blissful music. The girl looks in the mirror to peer upon herself, and how ‘cool’ she thinks she looks smoking a cigarette as she begins to light it, and sassily throws the matches down. When she begins to take a puff, we all get the shock of our lives. In the mirror’s reflection, we see her whole face morph from being a youthful teenager, all the way through to a coughing old hag, right before our eyes! We then get a final shot of her fingers clasping the cigarette as they dramatically hit the bathroom sink beneath, flicking away the ash while a lady’s voiceover says, “Smoking. It will suck the life right out of you.” That bathroom looks a bit messy, though. If she spent less time smoking and more time cleaning, maybe this ad would’ve had a happier ending. Maybe she would have morphed into someone prettier, like Angelina Jolie or something.
10: “Anthony Hicks” – Department of Health, 2004 (UK)
After what seems like hours of endless typing, we have finally made it to the top ten! But I can’t celebrate just yet, as this next ad is another one of those haunting ads from my scarred childhood. Boo. Let’s just crack on, shall we? Many of you might have seen this advert already, probably more than once because it has aired in a few different countries, as it is that effective. I absolutely hated this ad as a kid, though. I used to see it on the TV all the time and quickly run out of the room because I was that scared. It’s like I was pummelled with anti-smoking ads throughout my childhood, but thank goodness I was. 10 years after this ad originally aired, it is still as chilling as ever. We see a 58-year-old smoker named Anthony Hicks lying in a hospital bed after having his voicebox removed, prior to doctors finding out he also had lung cancer. What’s heartbreaking about this advert is that Anthony discusses his plans to see his eldest daughter Alexandra in December that year – “I will be alive for that” Anthony adamantly says. But the message at the end reveals that Anthony died just 10 days after filming, and he never got to see his daughter. Probably one of the most poignant anti-smoking commercials the UK have ever produced. Now, we just get boring ones. They definitely don’t make them how they used to anymore. They also aired a radio advert the year after, which also features Anthony, and it is just as chilling. You can listen to the ad below, if you dare…
9: “Tar Lung” – Australian National Preventive Health Agency, 1997 (Australia)
Now we’re back to cutting up body parts. Once again we get sucked down the throat of a woman lying on a couch while she has a ciggie. We are told by ‘the voice’ that “every time you inhale, tobacco smoke condenses in the lungs to form tar” while we take a tour of her lungs. We are then shown a ‘healthy lung’, only to be presented with a f*ckload of tar in a glass beaker. Yeah you know what’s coming next. They just pour that tar all over that lung like brown sauce over a full breakfast – sorry for the analogy. Other than that, there is not much more to say really. Who doesn’t love a good ol’ lung smeared with gloopy tar? I know I do.
8: “Everybody Knows” – Australian National Preventive Health Agency, 2009 (Australia)
Everybody knows that smoking causes an endless amount of diseases and illnesses. But what everybody might not know is that this commercial is creepy as f*ck. Think of this advert more like a ‘trailer’ for all of ANPHA’s commercials put together. I do like a good compilation, but this one I could quite happily never watch again. I really do not like the music in this one, nuh-uh (shakes head). I know the song is by Leonard Cohen, but it’s still bloody creepy. You already have a creepy montage of squeezing fatty arteries, gangrenous foots, cancerous lungs, cancerous mouths, and cutting up brains – but mix that with this song, and it sends chills down your spine. (Shudders) Australia sure don’t mess about when it comes to their anti-smoking commercials. Crikey, mate.
7: “Brain” – Australian National Preventive Health Agency, 1997 (Australia)
Now I find this particular commercial from ANPHA slightly hard to watch. Anything to do with cutting up brains or anything like that makes me queasy as it is, but Everybody Knows what these ads from ANPHA are all about. Brains are just so weird-looking, aren’t they? They’re absolutely brilliant and amazing in terms of how they work – but man they don’t look so appealing in the flesh, especially being cut in half. We also get a lovely blob of clotted blood drip down the side of it to – how lovely. Watching this almost gives me a headache – I need a lie down.
6: “Mouth Cancer” – Australian National Preventive Health Agency, 2006 (Australia)
Now onto another pleasant advert. This advert was probably one of the first international anti-smoking commercials I had watched when I was much younger – back when YouTube was first made. I did find it very hard to watch at first. I mean it looks so real, doesn’t it? But it’s all prosthetics! That is an absolutely amazing job. So before you all start worrying about the welfare of the woman featured – calm down dear, it’s only a commercial! Seriously though, that makeup is fab!
5: “Inside Out” – Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, 2002 (USA)
Now we have finally reached the TOP 5 – and what a roller coaster it is. Starting with this creepy-ass commercial, of course. Now even by the title, you can probably guess what’s in store for you in this commercial. Oh yes, we get to see what a woman’s body would look like from the outside if smoking impacted it the way it does to your inside. Some of you (especially you Americans reading) may be familiar with an infamous advertisement poster by the American Cancer Society, showing a woman covered in tar smoking a cigarette that reads, “If what happened on your inside happened on your outside, would you still smoke?”. Well this ad is a very grim adaptation of that poster. We first get to see a young woman chilling outside, talking on the phone to her friend while painting her toenails – good start so far! But then she soon makes the most fatal mistake of lighting up a cigarette, like in most of these commercials (obviously). When she begins smoking, we see her skin has become very achromatic and ashy. She flicks the cigarette into her ashtray, as we then see that her fingers have also became charred and blistered. Next up is a lovely shot of her putting her hair behind one of her ears, which has become badly disfigured, almost as if it has melted. The camera then pans from her legs, which have become severely charred and fissured, up to her chest and face, which have also been burned and cracked – all while the girl is still happily chatting away on the phone. “What if smoking did to you on the outside what it does to you inside?” a title reads, only for us to be presented with one final shot of the girls blistered face and hands when she ends the phone call and finishes up her cigarette. Well, well, well… I think this ad is just creepy on all levels. I mean, it’s pretty damn effective. Guaranteed if I seen this on television while I was younger, I would have soiled myself. Okay maybe something not that graphic, I’m sorry – but you get my point. What an amazing advert, it is definitely one of my favourite American PSAs out there. But nothing can ever top the ‘Cleaning Girl’ meth advert with my favourite jingle of all time. Sorry.
4: “Aorta” – Australian National Preventive Health Agency, 1997 (Australia)
Back to the land of kangaroos and koalas for the final time, now – and back to delicious porridge being squeezed out of arteries too. However, the artery used in this ad looks a tad bit more realistic than the plastic-looking artery used in the other one. Just look at how messy it is, and how messy the gloves get! It’s like the person squeezing the other artery in the other ad was afraid to get a bit ‘down and dirty’. You know them Aussies – they do it however the f*ck they want to do it, no matter how grotesque it gets. I applaud you, I really do! What the hell am I talking about? Anyways, it is still rather suspicious that they both use an artery from a 32-year-old smoker – either they are both fake or the British Heart Foundation one intends to rip off this one, because that’s fake. There’s so many unanswered questions. But I need to shut up. Either real or fake, they are both still pretty disturbing to watch. This one only scored higher up on the countdown though because of the ghoulish humdrum narrator, and the more realistic looking artery. Other than that, I’m limited on what to say. Moving on.
3: “Devil” – National Council on Tobacco and Health, 1999 (Norway)
Now this advert in particular never fails to give me the chills whenever I watch it. Here’s another fun fact: while I was researching this commercial, I actually ended up speaking to the actual actor in this commercial via email, who just so happens to be a very nice guy! He’s the sort I could quite happily sit down and have a pint with. But I don’t drink, so that’s a shame. Anyways, as you can tell this ad was originally Norwegian, but then dubbed into English to be shown in cinemas. I would love to see the original Norwegian one, but I think that has been lost forever – although this dubbed one is just as macabre. You can see why they named this one ‘Devil’ because the character is just that. No, not the typical devil with red horns, a tail and a pitchfork, but a psychopathic, sadistic hellion who is completely insensitive towards the fact that “Half of those who smoke die of smoking”, as the end title reads. It’s not just the insanity of the devil that creeps me out, but the very creepy visuals of him convulsing while psychotically laughing or staring at the camera. That, mixed with the eerie ‘static’ sounding effect, makes this commercial one that is beautiful yet grisly. It is also brilliant how the ad ends on a sort of shocking cliffhanger as we are not told what side the coin landed on, leaving us hankering. What a brilliant actor. I have used that word quite a lot in this blog post, haven’t I? ‘Brilliant this, brilliant that’ – time to study a thesaurus.
2: “Inside Out” – National Council Against Smoking, 2003 (South Africa)
Like how that famous Diana Ross song goes, “Upside down. Boy, you turn me… inside out, and round and round” – we have yet another one called ‘Inside Out’, which feels more like a horror movie than a commercial. Sorry about the crappy quality of this ad. This advert starts out like it’s some sort of perfume advert or something. We hear angelic singing as we approach a woman from behind (not like that), who’s wearing a sleek red dress, casually standing alone in what appears to be a forest. As we get closer, the pretty woman turns her head towards us and begins to smoke a cigarette. When the camera pans behind a tree though… oh god… what we see next is truly and utterly terrifying. Like seriously, it’s the freakiest thing I have ever seen in all my life. We see the same woman but her face is completely and utterly plastered with black tar, and her eyes looking like something that can only be described as (graphic analogy coming up…) what happens when a body decomposes and the face becomes all ‘puffy’ looking. And just when you think the title afterwards saves you from the sheer terror, we get one final extra close shot of her mortifying face while she sucks in smoke – “WHOOOOSH”. Considering that this is a “Universal wellbeing project” I don’t think this ad is doing anything beneficial for my wellbeing – in fact, it’s giving me an adverse effect. It’s almost making me want a smoke just so I can cope with the anxiety I have just experienced! Jokes. I wouldn’t go that far – not even Jesus Christ himself could tempt me to start smoking.
1: “Natural Born Smoker” – Department of Health, 1985 (UK)
Hallelujah! We have finally reached the NUMBER 1 SPOT over 7000 words later, and I hope you have enjoyed reading every single one! But here’s a few more words first. Most of you can probably understand why I picked this one as the ‘King of the scary anti-smoking commercials’ – A for being notoriously notorious (as it’s went down in history for being remarkably disturbing) and B for being HELLA CREEPY. And I never use the word HELLA for anything. I really don’t want to milk this out by talking a load of rubbish (although I’ve done that throughout this whole blog post), because you can understand just by watching how it managed to frighten so many people back in 1985, and it wasn’t just kids. The atmosphere, the setting, the voiceover, the morbid depictions, the smoker of the future. Everything about this ad just makes it notably the creepiest, and scariest anti-smoking commercial of all time. And if this advert didn’t creep you out enough, you should see the second instalment – which was given a PG rating. Yes, you heard me correctly… a bloody PG rating, the same rating given to family films. So forget your family get-together in front of the TV watching ‘Frozen’ or some other film like that – just whack this advert on and give your children a ‘family friendly’ treat they will remember for a lifetime! If this was shown on TV today, with how silly the UK public act nowadays, this wouldn’t even be shown on daytime television without some sort of uproar, but back then I guess they got away with it. And thank goodness they did.
Final thought: Now I’m not the next Jerry Springer or anything, but here’s my final thought about this whole thingy I have taken days to write up. I hope you have enjoyed reading my little review/commentary of my TOP 40: SCARIEST ANTI-SMOKING COMMERCIALS countdown. And I hope that to some of you watching, that you have learned something or benefited from watching this countdown in any way, shape or form. If you are a smoker and want to give up smoking, I wish you all the very best of luck. And to all of those who have been affected by smoking, whether it’s personal or whether it’s someone you know, you are forever in my thoughts. Stay strong and let’s fight the war on tobacco one day at a time.
For a factsheet on tobacco courtesy of the World Health Organisation (WHO) click here: http://who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs339/en/