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Media Campaign in Pakistan Uses Real Images of Tobacco’s Harms to Urge Smokers to Quit

(Islamabad, Pakistan, and New York, USA) – Vital Strategies today congratulated the Government of Pakistan on launching Tobacco Is Hollowing You Out, a national anti-tobacco media campaign. The campaign graphically shows the many harmful illnesses caused by tobacco use, including lung cancer, heart disease, stroke and oral cancers, and calls on smokers to quit. The campaign is implemented by the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination (MoH) with technical support from Vital Strategies. The campaign will be broadcast on national TV channels from November 2017 to January 2018 under the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) regulations, which require broadcasters to allocate up to 10 percent of air-time to public service messaging.

Dr. Tahir Turk, Senior Technical Advisor for Vital Strategies stated: “We congratulate the Ministry of Health on the launch of this important campaign and thank Pemra and national television and radio broadcasters for their commitment to support public health. High levels of compliance would protect Pakistan’s people and show other countries the value of having such a sustainable mechanism to deliver public service messaging. Coupled with strong implementation and enforcement of effective tobacco control policies, Pakistan’s government could achieve population-level decreases in tobacco use.”

An independent agency, Media Monitors, is monitoring broadcast of the campaign and will deliver its findings to Pemra and MoH. A position paper published by Vital Strategies notes that requiring broadcasters to allocate airtime to public service messages is a sustainable way of funding population-level health communication programs.  The 30-second PSA is designed to turn tobacco users’ intentions about quitting into active quit attempts through raising their perception of the risks of smoking. “Tobacco Is Hollowing You Out” includes graphic imagery such as a real human heart beating progressively faster, a healthy lung turning black, a cancerous mouth, rotting teeth, a cancerous throat, and clogged arteries that can cause stroke. The PSA ends with the message: “Tobacco Kills – Quit Today!”

This marks the second time Tobacco Is Hollowing You Out has been aired in Pakistan; it was first broadcast for a short period in 2015. The ad was originally developed by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and has been extensively pre-tested and used effectively in more than a dozen other countries. The full video, stills and transcripts from the campaign are available upon request.

The Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) Pakistan (2014) found that 31.8 percent of adult men and 5.8 percent of women use tobacco in any form; 22.2 percent of men and 2.1 percent of women currently smoke tobacco. While nearly 88 percent of smokers believe that smoking causes serious illness, only a quarter (24.7 percent) had tried to quit in the past year and only 22.3 percent planned to or were thinking about quitting. According to The Tobacco Atlas, tobacco use is the cause of 12.2 percent of deaths among men and 4.5 percent of deaths among women, killing over 2,000 Pakistanis every week.

Research has shown that media campaigns as well as large graphic pack warnings are among the most effective means to encourage people to stop using tobacco. Hard-hitting campaigns and images can compel tobacco users to quit, increase knowledge of the health risks of tobacco use, and promote behavior change in both smokers and non-smokers. They are featured in the World Health Organization’s M-P-O-W-E-R (W=Warn) strategies to reduce tobacco consumption. MPOWER strategies are endorsed and promoted by the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use, of which Vital Strategies is a principal partner.

About Vital Strategies

Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by a strong public health system. Our team combines evidence-based strategies with innovation to help develop and implement sound public health policies, manage programs efficiently, strengthen data systems, conduct research, and design strategic communication campaigns for policy and behavior change. To find out more, please visit or Twitter @VitalStrat.

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