14.0 Introduction

Mass media campaigns have been a major feature of Australia’s public education efforts in tobacco control since the early 1970s, when the then Director of the Cancer Council Victoria, Dr Nigel Gray, produced a series of low-budget television advertisements highlighting the health consequences of smoking.i  In the late 1970s, one of the world’s first evaluated anti-smoking mass media campaigns was trialled in Australia on the New South Wales Central Coast. In 1983, when the ‘Sponge’ commercial was then aired across New South Wales as part of the ‘Quit. For Life’ Campaign 1 it proved to be highly successful. The campaign was associated with a 1% decrease in smoking prevalence in Sydney, a significant change when compared with Melbourne (which did not introduce a Quit campaign until the following year), where the prevalence did not decline. 2

State-based television-led campaigns, particularly in Western Australia, Victoria and New South Wales, continued the practice of using formative research to guide the development of media campaigns and surveys to evaluate their impact. Evidence-based campaigns quickly became a key component of tobacco control efforts in Australia.

After some years of experimentation with different styles and messages, Australia’s first truly national population-wide mass media campaign, ii the National Tobacco Campaign, was launched in 1997 and heralded the return of ‘scare tactics’ to communication about the harms of smoking. The National Tobacco Campaign has set the tone for research, development and evaluation of public health campaigns at the national and state/territory level since that time. Australia has become well recognised internationally for its mass media campaigns. In the 2000s the World Lung Foundation reviewed hundreds of advertisements highlighting the health consequences of smoking for a global mass media resource iii to identify those proven to be most effective. Of the 21 selected, 13 were Australian.

This chapter describes Australia’s history and progress in running public education campaigns to discourage smoking and some of what has been learnt along the way. It also presents the latest evidence for running mass media-led campaigns: Australian and international, the context of such campaigns within comprehensive tobacco-control programs, optimal funding, and opportunities and challenges ahead. 


To view copies of these adverts go to http://www.cancervic.org.au/about/70-years/history-1970s

ii A national campaign comprising poster advertisements and brochures ran between 1972 and 1975 (see Section 14.3.2), and a national TV campaign targeted at young women (see Section was run in 1989.

iii An update of this resource is available at https://www.mediabeacon.org/tobacco-control/


1. Pierce J, Dwyer T, Frape G, Chapman S, Chamberlain A, et al. Evaluation of the Sydney 'Quit For Life' anti-smoking campaign. Part 1. Achievement of intermediate goals. Medical Journal of Australia, 1986; 144(7):341–4. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3959949

2. Dwyer T, Pierce J, Hannam C, and Burke N. Evaluation of the Sydney “Quit for Life” anti-smoking campaign. Part 2. Changes in smoking prevalence. Medical Journal of Australia, 1986; 144(7):344–7. Available from: http://lib.bioinfo.pl/pmid:3959949