Signs and Smoking

A sign is anything that conveys meaning. Exemplary of this is the advertising campaign released in 2008 by the Chilean Corporation against Smoking – ‘Smoking isn’t just suicide. Its murder’. This image acts as a sign and a very controversial one at that as it conveys a confronting message.


The picture (above) illustrates a very dark and almost black background with a     young boy, no more than four years old, fore grounded. He appears distraught as he is captured screaming and crying. Surrounding his head is a thick cloud of smoke positioned in such a way that it seems like a plastic bag is over the child’s head. The text is boxed and in small white writing, at the base of the image as it reads:  ‘Smoking isn’t just suicide. Its murder.’

The signifiers that make up the advertisement, without a doubt, compose an image that is both confronting and frightening. Why is this? The dark colours suggest a sense of doom, sadness and even fear as dark colours are generally associated with negativity. The little boy exploited in the image is characteristic of innocence, dependence and helplessness while he demonstrates extreme distress and sadness. Theses attributions appeal to emotions, at first astonishment before melting into a heartbreaking sadness, evoking sympathy, distress and even guilt. The smoke surrounding the child’s head adopts the role of a plastic bag which alludes to suffocation and subsequently the compelling message that smoking is murder. The text placed in small writing at the base of the image is there to simply reinforce the message that the image alone conveys. In this case: actions speak louder than words.

CONAC’s message is as clear as day but has it crossed a line?
As uncomfortable as the image makes me feel, I believe that it is acceptable. The advertisement is dealing with facts not fiction – in a grisly way, perhaps but also very effective. The image causes the audience to stop, look, think and hopefully do something.

Check out this article for more on the issue and have a look here for this and other campaigns against smoking.


4 thoughts on “Signs and Smoking

  1. I like your description of the signifiers Caitlin. The idea of a someone being alone, particularly a child, and suffocating in a dark place, like a basement, is unsettling. The element that makes this image controversial is perhaps what is missing. There is no cigarette. Initially it was not clear to me that the plastic bag is a swirl of smoke. There are no obvious signs that it is an anti-smoking ad.

  2. Totally agree with you Susan, the fact that there is no sign of a cigarette definitely hightens the controversy surrounding this advertisement. I feel as though the initial uncertainty about the intended message of the image is important as it causes the audience to look further and ask more of the image.

  3. What a powerful ad you chose to analyse! And I agree with you that although the ad is very in your face and uncomfortable, (almost devastating), I think it is really what some smokers may need to see to stop. I find the plastic bag shape of smoke over his head very powerful in that he is being suffocated unwillingly by people close to him.
    Keep up the good writing!

  4. Thank you for your perspective Sarah and I also agree – there is something horrific about the idea of hurting another human being in such a way that it could lead to their death. I think this image does a good job of conveying this devastating reality.

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