From smoking to seatbelts: hard-hitting safety campaigns that made a difference | Health | #childsafety | #kids | #chldern | #parents | #schoolsafey

Cancer charities and health campaigners are calling for a return to hard-hitting advertisements – common in the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s – to help tackle public health problems. Below are some of the key public health ads of past decades.

Don’t aid Aids – 1987

The 1987 Aids awareness campaign, Don’t aid Aids, was the Thatcher government’s response to the emerging public health crisis. The advertising campaign, broadcast on TV, billboards and in leaflets sent out to every home, is sometimes referred to as the Don’t Die of Ignorance campaign, or the Tombstone campaign.

The TV commercial starts with an explosion, followed by discordant music. Then an industrial drill bores into rock before the word “Aids” is chiselled into the polished surface of a granite tombstone. A Don’t Die of Ignorance leaflet drops on to the headstone, along with a bouquet of white lilies.

As these images flash up on the screen, a narrator says: “It is a deadly disease and there is no known cure. The virus can be passed during sexual intercourse with an infected person. Anyone can get it, man or woman … if you ignore Aids, it could be the death of you. So don’t die of ignorance.”

Norman Fowler, who was health secretary at the time, said follow-up research showed that 90% of the public recognised the ad and a vast number changed their behaviour because of it. “People took care and HIV cases went down,” he said, and research seems to support his view.

Fatty cigarette anti-smoking campaign – 2004

The British Heart Foundation (BHF) teamed up with the Department of Health for a campaign to help tackle smoking. An advertisement was created to highlight the internal damage caused by smoking.

The 2004 ad shows people socialising in a pub, smoking cigarettes. As they smoke, fat oozes out of a cigarette. A clip of fat being squeezed out of a 30-year-old smoker’s lungs illustrates the full horror, as the narrator explains that fat fills your arteries and can lead to heart problems.

It was rolled out on TV and in poster ads, and was hailed as an “overwhelming” success just weeks after it was launched. In the first month, 10,000 people had contacted the BHF’s smoking helpline and 62,000 people visited its website.

A survey for the BHF also showed that 90% of smokers recognised the dripping fat image, and 83% of people polled said it made them give further consideration to quitting the habit.

Secondhand smoke: the Invisible Killer – 2007

A national advertising campaign called The Invisible Killer was launched by the government to warn about the effects of secondhand smoke.

The 2007 campaign was trying to highlight the health risks associated with smoking, not only for the smoker, but also for the people around them who suffer the effects of passive smoking.

As people dance around at a wedding, black fumes waft through the room. People move their hands in front of their mouths to waft the smoke away, but it still spreads. A voiceover says 85% of cigarette smoke is invisible and odourless.

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The narrator adds: “Most cigarette smoke in the room comes from the lit end. Unfiltered and even more toxic, it attacks vital organs of everyone who breathes it, increasing their chances of heart disease by a quarter, even if they’ve never smoked.”

The focus on the risks to non-smokers of second-hand smoke prompted policy change, and in 2007, all enclosed workplaces and public places in the UK became smoke-free. This legislation is thought to have played a key role in shifting public attitudes to smoking.

Three Strikes: Richard didn’t want to die – 2008

In 2000, the first Blair government developed a campaign to try to reduce the number of road deaths and injuries. The ads were put out under the THINK! brand.

Richard didn’t want to die is a graphic portrayal of the impact a 30mph crash can have on a person not wearing a seatbelt. The 2008 campaign was introduced by THINK!, which delivered advice and education about road safety. The main focus areas were speed, seatbelts, drink-driving and child safety.

The narrator says: “Richard didn’t want to die but he couldn’t stop himself.” The viewer sees his car collide with another car, and his body fly forward, hitting the windscreen, despite being cushioned by the airbag.

It continues: “The collision with the car didn’t kill him, but he wasn’t wearing a seatbelt – so he continued on his journey.

“When he hit the inside of his car, that didn’t kill him either. But his internal organs carried on travelling until they hit his ribcage and his lungs were punctured and the main artery from his heart was torn – and that’s what killed Richard.”

When seatbelt wearing became compulsory for all rear-seat occupants in 1991, there was an immediate increase from 10% to 40% in seatbelt-wearing rates.

The percentage of adult rear-seat passengers in England and Wales wearing seatbelts had risen to 84% by 2021.


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