Picture Me, Smokefree


For years, cigarette packaging has been required to carry in-your-face warnings about the all-too-often lethal results of smoking tobacco. These include images of diseased mouths and cancerous lesions, as well as guilt-inducing pictures of innocent children endangered by a parent’s habit. But many die-hard smokers seem immune to such shock tactics. Perhaps something more subtle and interactive might be more effective at altering thinking patterns and behaviour – especially among younger smokers whose age might make them feel impervious to the consequences of smoking.

Enter Rebecca Haines-Saah, a research associate at UBC Okanagan’s iTAG group (Investigating Tobacco and Gender). The Canadian Cancer Society has given her a $125,000 grant for a campaign to stop smoking aimed at Canadian youth. It involves using popular social media platforms such as Facebook and Flickr to build a supportive online community and asks that participants who are trying to quit take and post photographs on the theme of what a smoke-free life means to them.

“In previous photography projects we’ve done with smokers, we see that people – especially younger people – create images that are strikingly different from the ones we usually see in tobacco control campaigns,” says Haines-Saah. “A lot of time and money is spent designing public health messages and imagery that will motivate or ‘scare’ people into quitting smoking. Our project is very different because it asks young adult smokers to use photography as a tool to step back and to reflect on why they smoke and why it may be hard for them to stop.”

In Canada, the 18-24 year-old age group accounts for the highest tobacco usage and is becoming a priority group for targeted cessation programs. Social media provide familiar territory and plenty of opportunity for discussion and collaboration. The Picture Me, Smokefree program explores how smokers think, rather than dictating what they should do.

“It’s really important to access the smoker’s point of view, so that we make sure we design cessation programs and messages that better support people [who] may want to quit,” says Haines-Saah.


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