Now, before I analyze this, I want to make a disclaimer. I am firmly anti-smoking. I think that the tobacco industry used years of insidious advertising to create a vast target audience with no regard to the safety of their product. Today is the third anniversary of my father's death, a man who died before age 60 from arterial disease, very likely a direct result of his decades of smoking. I suffered myself from excruciating ear infections from infancy until I moved out of the (smoke-filled) house I grew up in at 18. I have not had an ear infection since. I will not let anyone smoke near my daughter or in my house or car. I seek out restaurants with smoking bans, not just non-smoking sections. I dislike cigarettes very much.
All that said, Barcelos brings up some really good points about the CDC's new graphic anti-smoking ads. These ads--titled "Tips from Former Smokers"--feature people who are suffering from smoking-related debilitations such as cancer and vascular disease.
Barcelos questions these ads on a number of levels:
In addition to the whether these ads will be effective in persuading smokers to quit, we might ask whether fear and stigma are appropriate health promotion strategies. Is it possible or ethical to scare people into changing their behaviors? What are the implications of using stigmatized people to serve as a warning label to others?I immediately thought of two other ad campaigns.
The Milwuakee PSA that aimed to reduce co-sleeping through fear by showing pictures of babies with knives:
And the Georgia ad campaign targeting childhood obesity:
Like the anti-smoking campaign, these ads were focused on health outcomes and aimed to reach that goal by shaming people who had made these "bad" health choices (smoking, co-sleeping, being obese) without considering to what extent they actually are choices (ignoring the complexities of actual lives and boiling everything down to a simple choice between "good" actions and "bad" ones). As Barcelos points out, using the body as a space to enact fear has some consequences in the way we understand bodies' purposes:
The ads invite us to feel disgust at their bodies and fear at what could happen to our own.
But is that really what we want from a health campaign? The fear of what will happen to us if we don't behave and make the "good" choices? Shouldn't motivations for health come from a desire for positive outcomes rather than disgust at the negative ones (and, by extension, disgust at the people that we perceive as representing them)? Is fear really the way to get healthy?