Rubber masks with rotten yellow teeth, a hole in the trachea, and gangrenous skin: What looks like a publicity stunt for The Walking Dead is actually an anti-smoking initiative created just in time for Halloween. British online clinic HealthExpress partnered with prostheses experts to make Halloween masks based on smokers’ ruined faces for their “Stoptober” campaign.
Actors wearing medical fright masks–afflicted with diseases like mouth and throat cancers, macular degeneration, and periodontal disease–have been deployed across the U.K. this month in cities known to have high smoking populations. They’re wandering the streets, turning heads, and handing out anti-smoking pamphlets.
As we all learned from Mad Men, big bad tobacco companies love to use graphic design and advertising strategies to lure new smokers. One minute you’re wondering how Joe Camel manages to make being a dromedary look cool, and the next you’re eagerly filling Philip Morris pockets. Working the tactic in reverse, the new campaign reveals the tragedy of the Virginia Slims model after years of inhaling, the Marlboro Man with a tracheotomy.
While the masks might seem a bit cartoonish and callous to survivors of the diseases they depict, using ghosts of smokers future in an effort to deter new habits is a strategy tried and true. Canada’s cigarette packaging features graphic photos of tar-blackened lungs, cadavers with post-autopsy chest staples, and gangrenous limbs. PSAs threatening black hairy tongues and wrinkled skin fill middle school health classes the world over. Such visual threats are shown in studies to work better than written warnings, an example of the power of graphic design in our daily lives, Halloween or any other.