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Media advocacy, empowerment, or victim blaming? The case of a health promotion campaign on the harms of "passive smoking"

Nurit Guttman, PhD, Department of Communication, Tel-Aviv University, P.O. Box 39040, Tel-Aviv, 69978, Israel, 972-3-640-9010, guttman@post.tau.ac.il, Hannah Peleg, MA, Office of the Associate Director General, Israel Ministry of Health, Rivka 29, Jerusalem, Israel, and Yair Amikam, MA, Office of Information and International Relations, Israel Ministry of Health, Ben-Tabay 2, Jerusalem, Israel.

Background: Efforts to reduce smoking include persuasive campaigns and regulations to restrict smoking in public places. The Israel Ministry of Health and the Cancer Association teamed to develop a media campaign to accompany the enactment of new restrictions on smoking in public places.

Development of the campaign: Survey findings of a national sample conducted prior to the campaign indicated 63% specified reasons associated with fearing smokers' reactions or personal reluctance regarding asking smokers not to smoke in public places. A media campaign was developed utilizing a humorous theme about "shy" nonsmokers who reach heaven prematurely because of their apprehension. The campaign's ad drew media attention and was awarded national and international advertising awards.

Post campaign findings: Survey findings (a year later) indicated most of those who recalled the campaign (over 1/3) cited the message that shy people may incur damage when they don't request smokers to refrain from smoking in their presence. Most (80%) felt justified in telling smokers not to smoke in public places, but most (64% among nonsmokers) feared risking the wrath of smokers. 47% felt it was not their responsibility.

Ethical issues: Competing conceptions arise regarding responsibility, empowerment and victim-blaming. Campaign sponsors view it as a successful media advocacy effort and empowerment. Yet, its message may be construed as assigning people an enforcement role they may be unprepared to adopt and making them feel guilty when they do not. Additional ethical issues concern whether the success of media advocacy may depend on messages that are appealing but perhaps misleading.

Learning Objectives:

Keywords: Media Campaigns, Ethics

Presenting author's disclosure statement:
I do not have any significant financial interest/arrangement or affiliation with any organization/institution whose products or services are being discussed in this session.

Alcohol and Tobacco: Public Education and Media Advocacy

The 132nd Annual Meeting (November 6-10, 2004) of APHA