The federal government-funded message is graphic and simple: every cigarette brings cancer closer. Health groups have backed the campaign but advertising industry experts say the public has become increasingly immune to scare campaigns.
Minister for Health and Ageing Nicola Roxon, who will announce the campaign today, told The Sun-Herald: “Smoking kills. It’s as simple as that. This campaign will emphasise the link between a smoker’s cough – an everyday occurrence that is familiar to most smokers – and lung cancer. The campaign reminds smokers that a cough is the most common symptom of lung cancer.”
The graphic television component will be screened during prime time. It shows a father of a young family struggling with a chronic smoker’s cough in everyday scenarios – at work, a barbecue with friends, at home with his wife and children – and ends with a telling, close-up shot of a bloodied handkerchief.
Cancer Council chief executive Ian Olver supported the government’s move to follow up on its previous campaign: ”Every cigarette is doing you damage.”
”We know that the most effective way to drive down the smoking rate is to increase the tax on cigarettes and to combine it with multiple strategies such as restrictions in advertising and strong public health messages,” Mr Olver said.
But the director of Sydney advertising agency IMC, Michael Cahill, said the effectiveness of health scare campaigns was at breaking point.
”I think there is ample evidence when these sorts of ads come on television people switch off and think about other things,” Mr Cahill said. ”The biggest risk is that the message will be ignored.”
Australian adult smoking rates are at an all-time low of about 17 per cent, down from 34 per cent in 1980, but lung cancer remains one of the leading causes of preventable death and disease. It kills 15,000 a year.
Smoking is most prevalent among the young; 21 per cent of 20- to 29-year-olds smoke daily. Yet fewer are taking up the habit. In 2001, 28 per cent in this age group smoked.
Morgan Reynolds, a 29-year-old complaints investigator for the telecommunications industry ombudsman, started smoking when he was 18 and has tried to quit twice. His older brother smoked and his parents are former smokers.
”I probably smoke about 10 to 15 cigarettes a day,” Mr Reynolds said. ”On a night out it would be double that, but I smoke less now that you can’t smoke in pubs.”
Professor Simon Chapman, a leading tobacco reform campaigner, said being raised in a family of smokers was one of the biggest determining factors of future smoking, along with low socio-economic status.
Plain packaging for cigarettes will be introduced this year, further increases in the tobacco excise are expected and taxpayers will begin picking up the tab for nicotine patch therapy from Tuesday.
By Jessica Wright