A Digital Anti-Smoking Campaign That Preys On Vanity

To prevent Marlboro boys from growing into Marlboro men.


I still remember the black lung–it was a plastic model we were shown in D.A.R.E. Most of D.A.R.E. (Drugs Are Really Excellent) was a joke–but the black lung didn’t screw around. It was the stuff of nightmares. Healthy pink flesh had given way to a charred furnace of an interior, and worst of all, it wasn’t some monster, it was a demon lurking inside every smoker you knew. I didn’t want my lungs to look like that, so when I was offered a cigarette for the first time in sixth grade by my best friend, I was repulsed and said no.

The smoker has flabby grey skin…just like her baby.

But when The Cancer Society of Finland tapped agency 358 for a new anti-smoking campaign, 358 knew they had to take an updated approach to the old black lung. The result was Tobacco Body, an interactive site that transforms two young, beautiful models into smoke-rotted walking corpses.

“This is the 2012 version of those black lungs,” explains Creative Director Erkki Izarra. “We also thought that we could make something nicer and more usable from the kids’ point of view–a bit of tech candy, more youthful language, and some shock value. This way we could get the youth to especially face some of relatively short-term effects on their health.”

It’s a simple, slick interface. You choose an attractive man or woman and their body is bisected like Two Face, with one side toned and warm. The other is snarly and flabby. By clicking on body parts from “mouth” to “genitalia,” you can see just how cigarettes have destroyed their physique. Explanations appear on-screen breaking down what’s happening at the scientific level, but it’s the image that’s haunting, beauty faded by toxins.

“What do you think teenagers are interested in?” Izarra asks me. “We actually know something about it thanks to the ethnographic youth sub-culture research that Cancer Society of Finland has been doing every three years or so. Looks are among the most important things in all sub-cultures parallel with music, clothes, and hobbies. If not obsessed, they’re at least very interested in their physical appearance. From our point of view it may sound like vanity, but it is the reality.

The smoker has yellow teeth, gray hair, and a boxer’s nose.

“We were balancing between scientific credibility and the Addams Family. Our first version was too lame according to some of the more avant-garde educators. Then we went a bit too far. The end result is still a bit too ‘maddish’ for scientists that have been involved. All texts are 100% based on scientific facts, though.”


While 358’s approach is certainly dramatic in its artistic liberty, designing public health materials around vanity rather than health actually has a lot of scientific merit. It’s been found that eating more fruits and vegetables can actually make your skin color more attractive. In a recently presented study by The Perception Lab, college students who were shown how much better they’d look after just a few weeks on such a diet were more likely to eat more fruits and vegetables than students who were merely informed that fruits and veggies were healthy.

So many of us check every friend-tagged photo of ourselves on Facebook, just to make sure it’s flattering enough to keep the link. Yet what fraction of us spend that same few seconds checking regularly for invisible testicle or breast lumps? Everyone has their own standards of vanity, so why judge it when we can design to leverage that perfectly human trait?

Try it here.

[Hat tip: Creative Review]

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company who has written about design, technology, and culture for almost 15 years. His work has appeared at Gizmodo, Kotaku, PopMech, PopSci, Esquire, American Photo and Lucky Peach