Smoking the Invisible Killer

Secondhand smoke is an “invisible killer”, according to a shocking new advertising campaign, launched by UK Public Health Minister Caroline Flint this week. Nearly 85 per cent of tobacco smoke is invisible and odourless, but it causes just as much harm to people’s health as the smoke that is visible.

A woman smokes in a cafe, affecting her fellow patrons

In the TV advert, which will be broadcast from Monday 5 March, pervasive, dark smoke curls around guests at a wedding reception revealing the actual amount of smoke emitted by a single cigarette. And the smoker’s well intentioned attempts to blow or waft smoke away from non smokers does not reduce the potential risk of secondhand smoke to health. The ads make this “invisible killer” visible in this family celebration. The TV commercial will be supported by press, online and outdoor advertising from 5 March.

Whilst most smokers and non-smokers believe secondhand smoke can cause harm, a new survey released this week to support the campaign shows over half of smokers continue to smoke in a room with adult non-smokers, and a further quarter will still smoke when they’re near children.

A woman smokes in a bingo hall, affecting her fellow patrons

Secondhand smoke contains around 4,000 different chemicals. It can increase your chance of developing lung cancer and heart disease and can also cause a variety of serious health conditions including respiratory disease and cot death in children. It’s made up of both side stream smoke from the burning tip of the cigarette, and mainstream smoke exhaled by the smoker. Side stream smoke accounts for nearly 85 per cent of the smoke in a smoky environment and contains a much higher concentration of toxins, such as hydrogen cyanide, ammonia and carbon monoxide.

A man smokes in a garage, affecting his family

Launching the new campaign Public Health Minister Caroline Flint said:
“Smoking is harmful not just to smokers but to the people around them. What this new campaign brings home very clearly is the full impact of secondhand smoke. 85 per cent of smoke may be invisible and odourless but it is still damaging people’s health. Wafting and blowing away smoke may seem like the right thing to do but in reality, it makes little difference to the amount of secondhand smoke inhaled by people around you. With England going Smokefree on 1st July, there has never been a better time to stop smoking. We have already exceeded our three-year target to help 800,000 people quit by 2005/06, and still more and more people are successfully kicking the habit.”

A woman smokes at a wedding, affecting the bride, groom and guests

Professor Martin Jarvis, University College London, commented: “Children are particularly affected by breathing the poisons in secondhand tobacco smoke, because their bodies are still developing. Their bronchial tubes and lungs are smaller and immune systems less developed, making them more vulnerable to the toxins in smoke. Despite smokers’ efforts to blow their smoke away, or to not sit near children, they are still causing harm. People need to see secondhand smoke for the invisible killer that it is.”

Mikis Euripides, Asthma UK‘s Assistant Director of Policy & Public Affairs said:

“For people with asthma the effects of smoking can be deadly. 82 per cent of people with this serious condition tell us that other people’s cigarette smoke triggers their asthma and many cannot go out to bars and clubs without the fear of a fatal asthma attack. About 800,000 people with asthma in England are also smokers themselves (iv), increasing their risk of asthma symptoms, asthma attacks and permanent damage to the airways.”

The ads will run until 8th April coinciding with National No Smoking Day on Wednesday 14th March.

The best way to protect your family and other adults from secondhand smoke is to stop smoking. For further information phone the NHS Smoking Helpline free on 0800 169 0 169. Smokers who want to quit can also find details of their local NHS Stop Smoking Service by visiting, texting ‘GIVE UP’ and their full postcode to 88088, or asking at their local GP practice, pharmacy or hospital.

The TV ad and four print ads are available to download from the GoSmokeFree website.


The Invisible Killer campaign was created at Farm by art director Kevin Colquhoun, copywriter Gregor Findley, creative directors Owen Lee and Gary Robinson, with photographer Frank Herholdt, typographer Seripop. Retouching was done by Martin and Guillame at Loupe. Art Buyer was Cathy Mason.

Filed under: NHS, Print

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  • Lynne Eldridge M.D.

    Thank you for addressing this topic that cannot be understated.

    Those of us non-smokers who are exposed to second-hand smoke are two to three times more likely to develop lung cancer.

    What scares me the most as well, is our children. Children whose mothers smoke during pregnancy have an elevated risk of leukemia. Perhaps we need to show smokers pictures of young children going through chemotherapy, and remind them that if they light up anywhere near a pregnant woman, they are contributing to that childs misery.

    Thanks for helping in the “fight”!

    Lynne Eldridge M.D.
    Author, “Avoiding Cancer One Day At A Time”

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