Show that disgusting anti-smoking ad on Prime Time!

I’m not an avid TV-watcher, but the Health Promotion Board (HPB)’s latest anti-smoking ad has got to be the most disgusting and shocking one I have ever seen — and I applaud HPB for it!

This ad has caused unease among some parents of young children who are concerned that their kids’ delicate psyches would be damaged by the graphic image of a mouth cancer sufferer. One mother complained that her nine-year old daughter (that’s a primary 4 student, not a toddler!) was so traumatised by the commercial that she had a nightmare that night, waking up at 3am screaming for her daddy. Others had complained that screening the ad during dinner time turned them off from their food.

In response to public complaints, HPB has revised its advertising timing and channels “to minimise causing any alarm to young children”, according to its CEO Lam Pin Woon. The ad will now be aired only after 8pm.

I’m glad that it will still be aired early enough for most children to watch during “Prime Time” TV programmes. In my opinion, it is children and young teens who should be the target of anti-smoking ads, not older teens or adults. Trying to get an older smoker to quit is almost as hard as getting him to change his religion — it is possible, but not easy. If, however, such ads can sear in impressionable young minds the shocking consequences of smoking, it will forever be a subconscious deterrent to even pick up the habit, regardless of peer pressure when they hit adolescence.

I don’t know what the statistics are showing, but I seem to notice many more teenagers smoking nowadays. I believe teens are not ignorant of the health risks when they take up smoking. But if it is a choice between looking cool in front of your friends, or suffering some disease when you are 60, teens who are already suffering from self-esteem issues would likely choose to light up.

Thus, the thrust of the anti-smoking message to teens should not be to focus solely on the health risks, but to work with families, youth organisations, religious organisations and other social service organisations to raise the self-worth of teens. If they really loved themselves, do you think they would pick up a habit that is not only destructive to their health, but damages their image as well?

This might appear to go beyond the responsibility of HPB, but what is the use of tackling superficial issues alone without tackling the root problems? A multi-agency approach is therefore necessary to lower the smoking rate among our young.


Update: This is Health Promotion Board’s reply to my feedback:

Dear Gerald

Thank you for your support and feedback. Since the launch of our Campaign, HPB has seen a 5-fold increase in the number of calls to QuitLine from smokers desiring to quit smoking. We have also received many compliments from smokers and non-smokers alike. Nonetheless, we give all feedback due consideration. In addition to re-scheduling our advertisement to run after 8pm, we will! also preface it with a warning.

2 This TV advertisement is the first phase of our 3-month long smoking control campaign and presents a fatal and debilitating consequence of smoking to motivate smokers to quit and encourage non-smokers to urge their loved ones to stop smoking. The second phase of our campaign adopts an encouraging tone to urge smokers to quit and non-smokers to support their efforts.

3 The reality is that 1 in 2 smokers will die from smoking-related diseases. Each smoker will on average die 13 to 14 years earlier than non-smokers. Disability, disfigurement and early death due to smoking are very real. As you have correctly pointed out, we need to use a multi-pronged strategy which starts with our children. We are engaing schools, youth organisations, family service centres and other like-minded organisations to help our youth lead a smoke free life. Our National Smoking Control Programme also includes mass media campaigns, public education, provision of smoking cessation services, legislation and tobacco taxation. These strategies has helped Singapore lower its smo= ng prevalence rate from 20% in 1984 to 12.6% in 2004, one of the lowest smoking prevalence rate in the world. We hope to continue to help more smokers quit the habit.

4 A survey conducted by HPB, also showed that the median age of children picking up smoking is about 12 years. Thus we hope that parents can also take this opportunity to educate their children on the fatal consequences of smoking as well.


Mr Norman Chong | Manager | Smoking Control, Adult Health Division | Health Promotion Board |

Author: Gerald Giam

Gerald Giam is the Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC. He is a member of the Workers' Party of Singapore. The opinions expressed on this page are his alone.

6 thoughts on “Show that disgusting anti-smoking ad on Prime Time!”

  1. was the movie “Thank You for Smoking” showed in Singapore?

    Hilarious movie but there was a good message at the end when Nick Naylor was testifying in Congress. For the sake of those who have not watched it, this was the gist of his speech:

    1. The anti-smoking camp have clearly put the message across that smoking is bad for your health. Anyone who says they think that there’s nothing wrong with smoking is LYING.

    2. But education shouldn’t rest on cigarette packs or posters. There’s no need for harsh graphics. Education should be in the home, in schools, should be coming from an authority figure in teens’ lives. someone in their family or among their friends would probably have already died or suffered from smoking.

    3. Go ahead and punish shopowners who sell cigarettes to underaged smokers. Heck, make it illegal for the underaged to smoke.

    4. But once you’ve reached 18, and if you STILL wish to throw away your money and kill yourself, then go ahead. that’s your choice as an adult.


  2. Thanks for the insightful post. I agree that it is the society at large that shapes our youths. And yes, it is very important to develop self-esteem from the start.

    Being mentally strong builds a foundation that will carry us through the rest of our lives. It will affect the decisions you make, which will then have an impact on your relationships and your health.

    Anonymous – Yes, ‘Thank You for Smoking’ was shown in Singapore.

  3. aygee – yeah I remember watching that movie on a plane. But Nick Naylor was hired to speak on behalf of the tobacco lobby, so his words should be seen in that context.

    I disagree that “once you’ve reached 18, and if you STILL wish to throw away your money and kill yourself, then go ahead. that’s your choice as an adult.”

    Unless they want to pay full medical fees (and that of their 2nd hand breathing family) for all their medical treatment related to smoking, and all the other miscellaneous costs associated with their disease, it cannot be simply their own choice.

  4. I saw “Thank you for Smoking” too, and while I’m a great fan of freedom, I’m not sure that that’s what at stake here. If nicotine addiction is the problem, then it’s not a case of free choice.

    I’ve shared this proposal (link below) with the HPB. I got a very nice “thank you for your interest, but we’ll just do what we’ve been doing all the time” letter from them for my trouble. :(

  5. You have suddenly done a great effort to make people aware about anti smoking. I found your blog really interesting. I’m also suffered a lot for this bad habit. To get rid of this habit I used chantix it is really good medicines available in market for quite smoking.

  6. I have a better idea.

    Ban cigarettes and legalize marijuana.

    No one has ever died from a marijuana overdose. Besides, marijuana is safer than panadol as a pain killer.


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