Separation Anxiety for QUIT Victoria

The Cancer Council Victoria, Australia, has launched a television advertising campaign, “Separation”, targeting parents who smoke, encouraging them to consider the potential impact of their loss on their children. A young boy becomes separated from his mother in a busy train station. Gradually he develops the feelings associated with abandonment. “If this is how your child feels after losing you for a minute, just imagine if they lost you for life.”

Quit Separation boy


Data has revealed that every week 4 Victorians lose a parent under the age of 50 to a smoking-caused illness. The data shows that over 3,000 Victorian parents die each year from a smoking-caused illness – leaving behind almost 10,500 sons and daughters.

Quit Victoria’s Executive Director, Ms Fiona Sharkie said despite being devoid of graphic images of disease-ridden bodies the new campaign packs a huge emotional punch.

“This new campaign depicts very powerfully the personal and emotional impact that smoking-caused illnesses have on the lives of smokers’ families, particularly their children.”

Ms Sharkie says the campaign was developed in the context of data showing approximately 5% of the Victorian adult population have children 12 years or younger and are current smokers, which corresponds to approximately 211 273 smokers.

“This campaign may be confrontational but we don’t apologise for that. If we can get just one of those 211 273 smokers to quit and spare one young Victorian the grief of losing a parent to smoking then our job is done.”

“It is our responsibility to give smokers the strongest reasons possible for making a quit attempt. Research shows us smokers respond best to confronting messages about the serious effects of smoking on themselves and their children.

Ms Sharkie said a key message for smokers is that not everyone who dies from a smoking-related illness is elderly.

“The fact is that every week 4 Victorians lose a parent under the age of 50 to a smoking-caused illness – sadly when it comes to smoking-caused death, people from all age groups are affected not just the elderly as is often thought.”

Ms Sharkie said the campaign had been tested extensively with smokers who commented almost unanimously that it made them feel like they should do something about quitting smoking, if not for themselves, then for their kids.


The Quit Victoria team were Fiona Sharkie, Edwina Pearse, Alissa Guy, Terri Miano.

The Separation campaign was developed at The Campaign Palace by copywriter Pat Lennox and art director Ben Green, group account director Georgette Mahoney, account director Belinda Murray, strategy planner Melanie Wiese, head of TV Fiona Gillies.

Filming was shot by director Sean Meehan via Soma Films with producer Samantha McGarry.

Editor was Drew Thompson at Guillotine. Visual effects were developed at Fin Design by Richard Lambert with production designer Arabella Lockhart. Music was composed by Elliott Wheeler at Nylon Studios.

Post Script – April 2009

The Separation spot attracted concern from viewers not only in Australia in 2008, but also in New York in 2009, after it was used as part of an anti-smoking campaign there. Fiona Sharkie, executive director of Quit Victoria, spoke to the Today Show about the filming of the commercial, revealing that Alexander, the child in the ad, did shed real tears when he lost sight of his mother among a crowd of 150 actors and production personnel on set. However, the moment passed very quickly as his mother, Annette, returned to him. There was only one take, shot by five cameras. See more on the MSNBC Today show interview with Matt Lauer.

  • Desmond SHerlock

    An effective add ok but why didn’t the voice over encourage smokers to quit & remind them that some 70% of smokers quit successfully unassisted without calling any quit smoking help lines or without using nicotine replacement products. Instead it seems that the Quitline is more interested in getting smokers to call them than actually quitting.
    But understandable as that is how they gain their funding by measuring how many calls they get not how many smokers quit.
    I believe that it is time to change this tactic & for Quit to come clean to smokers & tell them the complete facts on quitting smoking. An interesting Uni of Sydney Paper on the Neglect of Unassisted Cessation:

  • Glenna Auxier

    Having seen what Fiona Sharkie will condone with the mistreatment of this child does not leave much room for us to wonder just what she will do for money. She and the collaborators on this ad knew exactly what the reaction would be from this child. The tears were exactly what they wanted and they set this ad up to get that reaction of fear and pain in this child to make the add as effective as it is. Feona said, “it was jus for a minute”, well Fiona, how much emotional pain are you willing to suffer, just for a minute? And how many children are you willing to throw under the bus, for just a minute? I suppose that makes you a really good employee. It also makes you a really bad example of a compassionate human being.
    Glenna Auxier, Gainesville, Florida