The most shocking anti-smoking posters ever made

Solopress Design Insight NHS hooked anti smoking poster

In the first in our new series of Design Insight blog articles, Solopress examine the most shocking anti-smoking posters ever made…

How are you coping now that we’re just over half-way through Stoptober, this month’s NHS backed challenge to quit smoking? Hang on in there and don’t give into the temptation of tobacco or your need for nicotine, because medical research shows that people who initially stop smoking for 28 days are a massive 5 times more likely to stay smoke free in the long-term. It’s a terrifying statistic that smoking accounts for over 100,000 deaths in the UK alone – and half of all long-term smokers will die prematurely from a smoking disease.

Does extreme or disturbing advertising also help people to stop smoking? Here’s our pick of the 5 most shocking anti-smoking posters of all time:

5. “Hooked”

Solopress Design Insight NHS hooked anti smoking poster

Image source: The Inspiration Room

This controversial NHS campaign from 2007 – showing images of smokers literally ‘hooked’ on fish hooks by their addiction to smoking – featured on TV, billboards, newspapers, magazines, online adverts and elsewhere. While the poster adverts stayed with the raw imagery, the TV ads also showed a positive side, with the smokers eventually able to unhook themselves from their addictive habit. It was one of the most famous advertising campaigns during the entire year, attracting a whopping 90% awareness among smokers and the highest ever volume of response from any anti-smoking campaign previously run by the Department of Health. That probably helps explain why the Advertising Standards Authority also received 774 complaints about its distressing and offensive content. The ASA upheld part of the complaint and banned the posters near schools as they were deemed unsuitable for viewing by young children. Nevertheless, the NHS had the last laugh. As well as the campaign’s phenomenal success amongst its target audience, “Hooked” went on to win Marketing Week’s Best Campaign of the Year award in 2008.

Read more:
Hooked smoking ads ‘broke rules’

4. “Fumer, C’est Etre L’Esclave Du Tabac”

Solopress Design Insight oral sex spoof anti smoking poster

Image source: Digital Journal

Roughly translated as “smoking is to be the slave of tobacco”, these provocative anti-smoking posters – with the obvious sexual connotation of a teenage boy and girl performing oral sex on an older man – caused quite an uproar in 2010. Shown in bars, clubs and newspapers across France, the ads were produced on behalf of Les Droits des Non-Fumeurs (The Rights of Non-Smokers) campaign group. The DNF campaign’s president, Gérard Audureau, was quoted in The Independent newspaper as saying that young people think that they are immortal, and the fear of sexual exploitation worries them far more than illness. At the time, other French campaigners such as feminist pressure group Chiennes de Garde (Guard Bitches) vehemently disagreed with the use of images implying underage sex, even though the adverts were on behalf of a good cause like anti-smoking. While these are striking poster artwork, created by the French BDDP et Fils ad agency, it’s difficult for most of us to make the jump between oral sex and smoking.

Read more:
French anti-smoking poster links habit to performing oral sex

3. “Fight Back”

Solopress Design Insight NHS GBH anti smoking poster

Image source: Osocio

Aimed at men who smoke, the Fight Back campaign was launched by NHS Birmingham East and North in 2009. It featured hard hitting images of bloodied, beaten up men with taglines like “Smoking. GBH to your Insides” and “Cigarettes attack you. But in ways you don’t always see”. Posters and leaflets were seen and distributed at shopping centres, match days at Aston Villa and Birmingham City football clubs, and more than 900 other local venues. These were backed up by a short video, made by celebrity photographer Rankin and co-director Chris Cottam, which was posted on YouTube. “People have been seeing stop smoking ads all their lives and everyone knows it’s bad for them. It’s old news. Unless we give people a new perspective on it, they’re not going to take any notice,” explains Joanna Mawtus, creative director of Dr Foster, the company behind the ads. “We think this idea does that. It’s quite shocking, but then so is the damage smoking causes.” As a result of this award-winning campaign, the rate of people quitting smoking in the city increased by an incredible 67%.

Read more:
Birmingham NHS Trust launches Rankin anti-smoking viral ad

2. “Brown”

Solopress Design Insight Chile Passive anti smoking poster

Image source: Wallpaper4free

The simply titled “Brown” was part of 2008’s anti-smoking campaign by CONAC (Chilean Corporation Against Cancer) that showed images of children in distress, in an attempt to warn people about the dangers of passive smoking. Its tagline reads: “Smoking isn’t just suicide. It’s murder.” The advertising agency Draft FCB took no prisoners with these ads, the imagery is brutal. Although some viewers have observed that the child looks like he is throwing a tantrum, not suffocating from smoke. What do you think?

1. “Mouth Cancer”

Solopress Design Insight mouth cancer anti smoking poster

Image source: World Lung Foundation

As the most extreme and disturbing photograph in our gruesome selection of anti-smoking shockers, we’ve deliberately reduced the size of this ‘Smoking Causes Mouth and Throat Cancer’ ad for you. The Australian government started placing graphic health warnings like this one, along with a Quitline telephone number, on the cigarette packs themselves in 2006. This upsetting photo made many smokers, and non-smokers, think about the possibility of getting mouth and throat cancer. It’s easy to see why it worked. Carrying on smoking and your mouth could end up looking like this, is a compelling argument to immediately quit the demon death sticks. Australia’s Graphic Health Warnings campaign also included TV, billboards and Internet ads. An evaluation of the campaign’s effectiveness was undertaken in 2008 and the “gross” mouth cancer image was of particular concern to young people, aged 15 to 24 years, in the follow-up study. If that girl in the Katy Perry song sported a nasty set of nashers like this, we’re not sure if the singer would have liked that girl-on-girl kiss quite so much!

Read more:
Health Warnings Campaign (2006)

Expert Design Opinion

“A memorable anti-smoking poster gets the message across without needing any copy, just a striking image to say it all. The ones in our Top 5 all have the shock value and they grab your attention straight away by using your own imagination. It’s clever advertising, simple and to the point,” says Julie Simpkins, one of the professional graphic designers at Solopress’ in-house design studio. “One I’m not so keen on, however, is the ‘Smoking Batters You Inside’ poster. The image to me doesn’t immediately show the point of the advert, copy is needed to explain the reason for the battered face. The image doesn’t seem to be as relevant.”

Want to quit smoking?

It’s not too late. Stub out that ciggie and stop smoking now. The Stoptober website has all the resources to help you quit smoking, including expert advice, daily motivational text messages, a smartphone app and support from other ex-smokers.


  1. Great information, definitely these anti smoking poster are shocking but very useful to aware people to quit the smoking for their own benefits.

  2. Eventhough we know cigarette and smoking is harmful we still smoking.Its hard to quit cigarette eventhough we have set the goal,unless im in a place that nobody there,no cigarette stocks and no smokers.You can stop smoking but you need a very strong desired plus stop smoking aids to achieve the goal of stop smoking.

  3. NO SMOKING: “we don’t want you here”
    The smoking ban was the single most effective vehicle for getting people to quit – more than the negative campaigning seen everywhere. Deep down all of us know of the perils associated with smoking anyway. A clever move, just short of making it illegal, (to ban it from every public place) ostracises the smoker. This signal puts it on par with society not tolerating other forms of drugs. So for me the best poster campaign has been the humble “No Smoking Sign” as if a smoker can’t indulge his habit in a relaxing place as he wishes, it takes part of the pleasure away and at the same times sends the signal “society does not want you around”. Pretty powerful stuff, as often people value their 5 minutes of liberty more than what might happen to their health in 30 years time.

  4. Shocking images to be sure but I think it would depend one’s personal circumstances as to whether one is affected by them or not.

  5. i’ve smoked for 30 years and to be honest no posters or advertising as made me give up. Some of the posters are shocking but addiction to nicotine is strong.

  6. I never understood the appeal of smoking myself. Like most I tried as a teenager, but I hated it. Friends said it would get better the more you have, but I just said why have more when the first was so nasty?
    Now I look back and think of all the money I have saved over the years compared to those that carried on and became hooked.
    Maybe a poster illustrating the money you waste would be effective for some smokers, I doubt it though.

  7. I’m a smoker, or should I say, a self hating smoker (I believe most of us are), but despite the undeniable impact of these images, not one of them is going to stop me smoking. Indeed, the constant, ongoing nagging by friends, family, the state, the TV, your doctor et al actually seems to make most smokers dig their heels in further – placing stress upon a smoker makes them more likely to light up! We know it will kill most of us young, we know that our death will likely be grim, and we’ve rather worryingly come to terms with that.

    Stopping has to be an internal decision, and while I wish it did help, most of this sort of shock treatment seems ineffectual for those who’re already hooked.

    I wonder how long it is before adverts like this are popping up about MSG laced, hgh fat, high fructose corn syrup and high sugar foods that are causing the obesity, diabetes and heart disease epidemic are adorning our buildings and cramming our airwaves… For some reason I don’t think it will be soon, the fast food and snack manufacturers don’t want that, and for some reason it’s acceptable to lay a guilt trip or dire warning on a smoker, and less so on someone who’s clinically obese. Funny thing that, because we both have addictions, we both cost the NHS a fortune, and we both need to make some lifestyle changes for our own, and other people’s good, yet only the smokers are being told that with any frequency.


  8. I am a smoker. It is disgusting and I am ashamed. Pictures like this are the stuff of nightmares and affect me as much as the next person. I would love to look at these and be scared enough into stopping smoking, but it just doesn’t work. Smoking is an addiction the same as any other, and images like this – while shocking – are too abstract a concept for most smokers (people?) to grasp as a reality that could befall them.

  9. I’m a non-smoker, not sure if that makes a difference on how I view the images though.

    I found the ‘hooked’ picture the best to convey the message, nobody likes to think they arn’t in control of something but that clearly shows the hold cigarettes can have on people.

    I don’t like the Fumer, C’est Etre L’Esclave Du Tabac poster at all, I don’t think it’s appropriate and can’t really see the link between sexual exploitation and smoking.

    I’m not sure about the ‘Fight Back’ image, I would imagine some would-be tough boys would think its quite cool, so ineffective.

    The boy in the plastic bag is really quite disturbing and therefore possibly one of the best. Although playing to a smokers conscience on behalf of children will only effect those smokers who do actually care about the consequences of their smoking on others and I’m afraid there’s a section of society that just don’t care.

  10. These adverts never worked for me. I gave up when a personal and close family relation got an illness connected to smoking. However, the image of a child being suffocated…….surely that`s enough for most parents????

  11. Definitely shocking, I tried smoking once or twice in my teenage years but am so pleased I did not become addicted. Nowadays, with all the publicity, not to mention the cost, I cannot understand anyone who smokes.

  12. These posters are shocking but I think they have to be, obviously not just seeing the poster will make people give up smoking as it’s not as easy as that. But if it encourages people to at least try then these posters can’t be a bad thing.

  13. I think for non-smokers they all work and would probably ensure that we will never take it up. Unfortunately for long-term smokers, I don’t think shock images make much difference. The only people it may help are young people who have recently started, and with young people being concerned with image I think the last one will probably have most impact.

  14. The bottom definitely works best! The first one looks like a Line Fishing Health & Safety campaign, the second suggests Oral Sex causes throat cancer, third – its Boxing related and fourth honestly looks like Child Abuse & plastic bag sfety campaign…

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