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Communicating the invisible threat

May 12, 2011


Some of the best and most powerful communication ever created was the work that put Big Tobacco to task.

It created an enemy that everyone could rally against and presented its role and connection to the changed health and lives of individuals in an emotionally powerful way.

We must remember that cigarettes didn’t get banned, but they got the next best thing. The most important thing that happened is that masses of the population were made aware of the damaging effects of tobacco, so they could make an informed decision.

Generations will look back and realize that the efforts made to fight
big tobacco to protect the health of individuals may have
been one of mankind’s greatest achievements.

In the future, we could discover that many things were just as harmful to human health as cigarettes.

We know there have been efforts against sodas, the fast-food industry and even cellphones have come under attack.

While the information of the health effects has been out there for a while on many of these categories. It’s been hard to prove and substantiate any proof of a direct connection to health effects.

More importantly, they don’t have and are unlikely to generate the same level of momentum and passion as the attack against big tobacco.

The case against tobacco was driven by the ability for individuals to see how smoking had directly impacted the health and welfare of those around them. These connections are harder to do with these other categories and therefore there’s no emotional fuel to draw upon.

These, so-called invisible threats have become even more pronounced with the recent nuclear disaster in Japan. We read stories about the lethal effects and impact of radiation over time, but very few of us have seen it first hand, making it hard to make a connection and to see any real danger in the threat.

One thing that the recent nuclear events have taught us is that radiation is present in our lives in ways we might not have expected, a big source of radiation is the cosmic radiation we get from flying in commercial jets.

There was also news yesterday that revealed highly toxic substances are created by the effect sunlight on jet fuel, maybe this is some of the stuff we get to breathe while sitting on the tarmac waiting for the plane to take off?

This invisible and potentially long-term health threat doesn’t generate the vivid emotional imagery that a plane crashing or being hijacked does. While we obviously know the chances of those events happening is tiny, compared to the 100% chance of at least some chemical and radiation exposure.

While it will be debated for a long-time whether these “invisible threats” do pose significant health risks, those challenging and opposing them have to make the threats come alive in order to create an emotional connection. Unless they can do that, they will never accomplish what those who fought big tobacco managed to achieve.

Posted by Ed Cotton

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