NHS Smoking Adverts Scared Children

The British National Health Service (NHS) “I’m not scared” anti-smoking television campaign, launched at Halloween in October 2008, is now being shown after 7.30 pm only after complaints about frightened children. TV and radio advertisements, designed to show children’s fear of their parents dying of smoking-related illness, have led to complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority.

NHS Smoking Mother

The TV commercial opens on a darkened child’s bedroom. A young girl declares that she is not afraid of the dark. “I’m not scared of spiders”, she says, before going on to declare her lack of fear of clowns or bullies (Becky Taylor). The ad ends with a group of young mums who are chatting together and smoking; the girl says “I’m scared of my mum smoking”. One of the mums turns and smiles at the camera and the girl says “I’m scared that my mum will die”. Text on the screen declares that iver 2,000 people die every week in the UK from smoking related diseases.

Click on the image below to play the video in YouTube

The Department of Health felt it was important that smokers should hear the message in the company of their children, because it prevented them from avoiding the issue and would motivate them to quit smoking. The ASA said it recognised the “serious and worthwhile” nature of an advert designed to make parents consider the emotional impact of smoking on their children, but judged it necessary to balance targeting that audience with avoiding distress to young children. The organisation was concerned that children might end up watching the advertisement alone without parental support or reassurance.

NHS Lightning poster

NHS Clown poster

NHS Spider poster

Not Worried

Another commercial uses the same approach, targeted at teenagers.

Click on the image below to play the video in YouTube


The Not Scared campaign was developed at Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy by creatives Jeremy Carr and Ken Hoggins.

Filming for Not Scared was shot by director Walter Stern via Academy Films, London, with director of photography Marcel Zyskind and producer Lucy Gossage. Editor was Jonnie Scarlett at The Quarry, London. Telecine was done at The Mill, London.

Filming for Not Worried was shot by director Peter Cattaneo via Academy Films.

  • Hermann Hurch

    Although I am fully in favour of anything that might persuade people to stop smoking, campaigns that scare children and try to get at adults via their children, go too far in my opinion. By all means scare the adults directly. But using children to get adults to change their behaviour is a little too Orwellian for me. Incidentally, I don’t think these ads were meant to scare children, but rather engender guilt in adults.

  • Charlotte

    I know a few people who gave up smoking for their children.I find it is a big reason why a lot of people do. They do it for their family so I think it is a good way. It makes people think about how it effects others esspesially children. Im scared of my brother smoking. It brings me to tears. Some people dont realise how much it effects others emotionaly. I know i didnt until i found out my borther was smoking. These days more and more younger people understand smoking and effects so now they are scared for family and friends.

  • rebecca ali

    i would really like this shot i now u probely get alot but it means alot to me

  • shady01

    i just wanted to say that although i understand what the problems are with these adverts i think its important that this is truely how children feel. My mum smokes and growing up as i learned more in school about smoking i was secretly terrified that she was going to die. I was something i really struggled with. MY younger brother rencently confided in me this very same fear. Parents need to understand that althought they have accepted the health risks assocciated with smoking … their children havent and not only that but they are risking their childrens lifes as well .
    i hope these adverts let children know that they are not alone in their feelings and they should tell their parents.

  • Faith Miller

    I am disgusted by this advert, Yet again advertisers use ploys to upset children and get them to bully adults. I am a smoker and fully understand the implications of my choice to smoke. But these set of advert not only are indirect badgering, They have deeply upset my daughter thinking i am going to die imminentely and cause great distress. I am an adult and make many life choices but this is i belive in very bad taste! I fully accept that we are always concerned about the one of those close to us but this is my choice and will not be badgered to change though emotional blackmail to my daughter who doesn’t fully understand the risk as response above says. Children don’t have the emotional maturity to understand things fully and this is another below the belt cheap shot!