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December 1998 was a busy time for British Columbia’s “Tobacco Industry’s Poster Child”. In Vancouver, preparations were underway for a World Health Organisation (WHO) meeting to forge an international treaty on tobacco control and the poster child poster was prominently displayed. In Vancouver, Dr Douglas Bettcher, coordinator of the WHO’s framework convention on tobacco control team, and a native of Alberta, Canada, discovered the poster child model was one of his cousins. He invited the model, Christine Hemmerling of nearby Maple Ridge, to address the convention delegates.
Creating the “Tobacco Industry’s Poster Child”
The British Columbia Ministry of Health, working with NOW Communications of Vancouver, set out to create an image that conveyed the damage that could actually happen to a young, supposedly invulnerable smoker. It was decided to portray a young girl, about 14, because smoking among girls is increasing more rapidly in BC than among boys. She was to be recognisably pretty, except for the damaging effects of tobacco.
The goal was to have a pre-teenager look at the poster and think “This could happen to me”. There was an additional objective—to link the damage to the tobacco industry itself. The poster’s original headline “Smoke Damage”, didn’t accomplish that goal, so the agency developed a headline—“Tobacco Industry’s Poster Child”—that mocked the poster child imagery of good causes.
The poster child picture was inspired by issue 21 ofColors magazine, published by the Benetton company in the summer of 1997 (< http://www.ashaust.org.au/wsd.html >). Each edition of the magazine deals with a particular social issue, and issue 21 focused on smoking. It included a collage of a human body made up of photographs of damage caused by tobacco: hair loss, cataracts, tooth decay, tumours, and diseased lungs. The effect was shocking, revolting, and riveting. The challenge was to capture all …