One of our first interview respondents, Jovante*, a 19-year-old African American artist, mentioned this ad from the ugly truth campaign (“the nation’s largest smoking prevention campaign for youth and young adults“):

For Jovante, this ad was suspicious. He thought it was over the top, did not make sense, and that it suggested ulterior motives on the part of the people behind it. Although the ad’s explicit message is anti-smoking, Jovante felt that its effect on some young people might be “the exact opposite,” especially in light of his broader sense of membership in a group that has been exploited and marginalized:

“They would rather we smoke tobacco and kill ourselves, because they get money from it.”


So then today I came across another ad from the ugly truth campaign. Unlike the ‘cat pee’ ad, I’d never seen this one before:


“This is from Big Tobacco’s files. It’s a plan to sell cigarettes to gays and homeless people, and they called it ‘Project Scum’… And the ones on the left are just some of the ways Big Tobacco labeled African Americans.”

I wondered what Jovante would think of it. Seems like he would find it more credible.

Scanning this working paper by Deborah Lupton (thanks Tamar!) on the use of disgust in public health campaigns, I’m struck by how the first ad plays to 3 out of 4 kinds of disgust described in the paper… There’s “animal reminder disgust”, “matter out of place disgust” and “liminality disgust”, all in one super disgusting ad.

The fourth disgust-egory is “moral disgust,” and maybe that’s what the second ad appeals to. But unlike the examples in the paper, it’s not moral disgust aimed at people who use cigarettes. Instead, the target is marketing tactics.

Big difference in how these two different kinds of messages may affect people who are already dealing with stigma and marginalization in other parts of their lives.

*’Jovante’ is a pseudonym

Rachelle Annechino
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Rachelle Annechino

Digital Media Research at Center for Critical Public Health
Rachelle Annechino is a graduate of the School of Information at UC Berkeley, an associate research scientist at the Prevention Research Center, and a founding editor of Ethnography Matters.
Rachelle Annechino
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