Countering Big Tobacco's Lies & PR - Creatively!

February 2002

Please find below an impressive collection of humorous, hard-hitting, innovative and inspiring counter-advertising examples and ideas from around the world.

There is something for everyone here. A wide array of superb parodies of tobacco ads. A "death clock" billboard (Pakistan). An adaption of a popular 60's folk-rock song with some new "killer" lyrics. Grassroots sticker campaigns (Sri Lanka). A radio interview with a famous British actress (Uganda). A couple of super-duper radio Public Service Announcements (USA). And a new web video mocking Philip Morris's name change (USA)!

Counter-advertising, when hard-hitting and used strategically, can effectively expose the tobacco industry's lies, raise public support for stronger tobacco control measures, encourage smokers to quit, and discourage young people from lighting up.

As you read through these examples, note how some groups have used various media channels to maximize the impact of their counter-advertising campaigns -- at little or no cost.


CANADA - Heidi Rathjen, Coalition Quebecoise pour le Controle du Tabac
These were done by "Guerilla Media" groups in Vancouver and Montreal. The Montreal group used Vancouver's artwork and adapted it to protest the tobacco sponsorship of the Montreal Jazz Festival (by du Maurier cigarettes) in 1997: Originals --> Counter-Advertisements
       I also picked up these off the internet (from ?):
"Your Passport to Death" , "Think Suicide" , "Find Your Voice Box!"

CZECH REPUBLIC - Eva Kralikova, Charles University of Prague
"Smoking during pregnancy and breast-feeding seriously harms the baby"

MAURITIUS - Veronique Le Clezio, ViSa
For the purpose of antismoking lessons that I give in schools and community centers, I have created about 400 visuals among which I choose about 25 to 30 each time for display while I am giving the conference. I spend approximately 1 or 2 minutes on each visual aid. These visuals are very convenient because they are easily carried anywhere for demonstration. The images that are the most successful are:

1. The "Marlboro Adventure" series - I ask the public to participate and to count the cowboys in each ad: 4-3-2-1-0...But where have they gone? - Dead- How? - By smoking cigarettes - OK, but where are their horses? -Dead - How? - By passive smoking. And the sad story of Wayne McLaren, the Marlboro Man...

2. The same sort of sequence with 3 pictures of the Marlboro Cowboy inviting us to live the Adventure. Let us live "the adventure" with the handsome cowboy: (i) A beautiful ad of
Marlboro Man, with his white hat, lighting a cigarette. Very attractive. (ii) Here is the adventure itself: the picture of a middle-aged man, not so good looking, all wrinkled and tired, with the same white cow-boy hat and a cigarette. (The seduction doesn't last long with smoking and nicotine is addictive) (iii) And now "The End of Adventure": A grinning skull with the white hat and a cigarette. The public used to burst out laughing at the second and the third image!

In Mauritius, many retailers shops are being sponsored by BAT for the painting of the outer walls of the building with the colours of the very popular 'Matinée' brand of cigarettes: Yellow and brown, with a red stripe, so that the shop looks like a gigantic subliminal 3D 'Matinée' pack. ViSa has borrowed the same colour coding to mock BAT. The leaflets on Passive Smoking issued for the 31st May 2000 are presented in these colours.
       Thousands of stickers which look like 'Matinée' pack's front have been distributed, with a message printed in the same policy of characters: "Nicotine - a drug - Criminal Industry - "Don't let cigarettes destroy your life"
       A prominent illegal advertising that is still present, in spite of the Public Health Act is "Benson and Hedges" brand name. ViSa copied the character font to say "BRONCHITIS & HEARTDISEASES".

PAKISTAN - Ehsan Latif, Tobacco Free Initiative
Tobacco Free Initiative – Pakistan (TFI-Pak) launched the first Anti-Tobacco billboard in Pakistan on the 16th of February 2002. It has been placed at a busy intersection of the city of Rawalpindi and carries a death clock that counts the number of deaths due to smoking since Jan 2001. We created a media event around it keeping in view the coming rounds of FCTC in Geneva and invited the WHO rep in Pakistan for its launching ceremony held on the same date. The event received good media coverage and highlighted the need for anti-tobacco legislations in Pakistan including a total ban on tobacco promotion. The billboard is in Urdu and essentially says ‘Tobacco kills a smoker every eight seconds’ ‘Who is responsible?’ with the death clock in the middle.

SRI LANKA - Pamodinee Wijayanayake, Alcohol And Drug Information Center
There are many examples of counter advertising available in the Sri Lankan community. Some of them are as follows:
Soft & Weak: Be Impotent (parody of B & H)
Kiss a nonsmoker and taste the difference!
        Similarities have been drawn between the CTC (Ceylon Tobacco Company) and the LTTE (the Tamil Tiger Terrorist group in Sri Lanka). There were posters in the comminity which said:
"We do not recruit or target children" LTTE
"We do not recruit or target children" CTC
Therefore CTC = LTTE
        "Poor John" stickers making fun of the John Player logo became very popular and at that time all smokers were nicknamed "Poor John". In some areas the joke still continues.
         In certain areas of the island young people have been known to perform street dramas at which time the tobacco company was ridiculed and their strategies exposed.

UGANDA - Angelo Izama, Monitor FM
In February we had our most famous guest yet: British actress Emma Thompson, who was in the country as a goodwill ambassador on HIV/AIDS issues. While appearing on the Smoke Free Eye Opener she said that she had lost her own father to smoking related illness at the early age of 56, and sent out this message to our Ugandan listeners about smoking "love your body, don't smoke." Photo of Angelo and Emma

URUGUAY - Adriana Menéndez, Tobacco Control Commission, Uruguayan Medical Syndicate
Here are a few responses from some co-workers:
1. To an inconsiderate smoker: Cigarette smoke is the byproduct of a your pleasure. It contaminates the air, my hair, my clothes and my lungs. I also have a pleasure; I like beer. The byproduct of my pleasure is urine. How would you like it if I urinated on your head??? Then, don't smoke near me!!!
2. Description of original drawing: figure of a skeleton slouched forward and smoking, with ash piling up in front of him. Text: Smoking...makes you thin!!!
3. Image of 2 small angels in a celestial sky, saying "if you smoke, there's a place here reserved for you."
Read original Spanish version

USA - CA - Amalia Fernandez-Niewendorp, Polaris Research and Development, Inc.
Remember the PM ads about the guy bringing a little old lady food and singing her old Italian songs? Well, how about an ad that shows the "nice" guy bringing granny a new oxygen tank to replace her used one? Or, maybe a tobacco "suit" talking about the fact that in the long run smokers will save society money by dying early, saving society the cost of keeping and taking care of them in their old age! I still can't believe they actually released a statement like that.

USA - DC - Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids
Philip Morris thinks they can change their image by changing their name. They think they can give big campaign contributions to the Washington politicians and get whatever they want. For decades, the tobacco companies targeted youth – and covered it up. They knew that cigarettes and other tobacco products were addictive and caused deadly diseases such as lung cancer and heart disease. They covered that up, too. Now they are tying to cover up a bad reputation with a new name. How far do you think the tobacco industry will go to change its image? Watch this video mocking Philip Morris and find out:

USA - FL - Arthur Pitchenik, University of Miami School of Medicine
Go to our website, main menu, click on "interactive CD ROM-1," click on "Audiovisual Presentations," click on "C. Analysis of Tobacco ADS and Counterads" and what comes up are original multiple (about 100) audiovisual counterads to most of the common cigarette Ads. The presentations are conducted by kids and many were created by kids. (This requires a rapid internet connection to avoid long downloading times). The counterads are so graphic, they convey the message even without the audio which is in English. Also, the much shorter Introduction on the main menu of our website contains counterads and this does not require a rapid internet connection for reasonable downloading time.

USA - MA - G inny Rego, Positively Youth
1) There are four galleries of counter-advertisements at Here are two examples:
• A Merit counter ad has a picture of cigarettes in a coffin with the message: "New Crush Proof Box"
• A Joe Camel counter ad has Joe Camel dressed in a black hooded robe with a pack of cigarettes in one hand and an scythe in the other with a message saying: "Smooth Reaper"
2) Joe Camel as a cancer patient, in contrary to what he usually represents in cigarette ads, he is not cool, but dying.
3) There was a counter ad that had pictures of household poisonous cleaning products (whose ingredients are also in cigarettes) with the question: "Would you put this in your body?"

USA - NH - Dana Mitchell, Dover Youth 2 Youth
The Dover Youth to Youth group began writing and recording their own radio Public Service Announcements (PSAs) in 1996. Since then they have recorded 22 anti-tobacco PSAs at a local radio sation's production studio. The students first come up with a core idea for a PSA. A script is developed and refined arround a strategy (ie. health-based, social disapproval, or TRUTH-style industry manipulation ads) by which the target audience will be influenced. The script is then refined and adjusted so that it is just under either 30 or 60 seconds. Then roles are assigned to the parts, the team of students practices until they are sick of it, and then an appointment is made to record it in the studio. The students have won awards from the New Hampshire Broadcasters Association for best PSA in 3 of the last 6 years and won a National award from the CDC in its 2000 Truth Unfiltered Media Contest for the best radio PSA by high school students. Read the text of two PSAs:
1) TRICKS 2) Voice Mail
          We also rewrote the words to a 60's folk-rock protest song called Eve of Destruction. It became Eve of Addiction. It was recorded in a local studio and sung by my students, accompanied by a professional guitar player. Listen to the song

Other sources of counter-advertisements:

AUSTRALIA - Simon Chapman's Tobacco Control Supersite
Includes controversial Hong Kong ad with image of two upright smoking cigarettes (visual allusion to WTC towers) and text "No More Killing"; take-offs on "Altria"; and lots of impotence-related posters

February's Question

Essential Action
Global Partnerships for Tobacco Control

P.O. Box 19405 ~ Washington, DC 20036
Tel: +1 202-387-8030 ~ Fax: +1 202-234-5176
Email: [email protected]