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:
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 |