John Cleese Stars in a Morbidly Funny Anti-Smoking Campaign (1992–1994)

In 1992, the Health Edu­ca­tion Author­i­ty (HEA) began run­ning a series of ads on British tele­vi­sion star­ring the Mon­ty Python come­di­an and ex-smok­er, John Cleese. Smok­ing remained the #1 cause of pre­ma­ture death in the UK, and the HEA want­ed to see if a media cam­paign could make a dent in the epi­dem­ic. As part of a con­trolled exper­i­ment (all detailed here), ads star­ring Cleese were shown in cer­tain parts of the UK (but not oth­ers), and they used mor­bid humor and macabre sce­nar­ios “first to engage the view­ers’ curios­i­ty,” and then to “high­light the dan­gers of smok­ing, show[ing] the ridicu­lous­ness of the smok­ing habit.” Final­ly, view­ers were giv­en a phone num­ber to call where they could get more infor­ma­tion on how to quit.

So what were the results? Dur­ing the cam­paign (which ran from 1992 to 1994), the “quit­line” received around 20,000 calls over­all. Data crunch­ers lat­er found that the con­trol groups exposed to the ads quit smok­ing at a high­er rate than groups that had­n’t seen the com­mer­cials. Plus the relapse rates of the con­trol group were low­er than the norm. All of this led the gov­ern­ment to con­clude that “anti-smok­ing TV adver­tis­ing should be under­tak­en rou­tine­ly as an essen­tial com­po­nent of any pop­u­la­tion smok­ing reduc­tion strat­e­gy.” In this post, we’ve high­light­ed three of the bet­ter pre­served ads in the cam­paign.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

An Anti, Anti-Smok­ing Announce­ment from John Waters

Bertrand Rus­sell: “I Owe My Life to Smok­ing”

John Cleese’s Phi­los­o­phy of Cre­ativ­i­ty: Cre­at­ing Oases for Child­like Play

John Cleese’s Eulo­gy for Gra­ham Chap­man: ‘Good Rid­dance, the Free-Load­ing Bas­tard, I Hope He Fries’

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.