Smoke is hazardous to your health, says Canadian Lung Association

The Canadian Lung Association is using one of the biggest culprits behind lung disease to make a point about the serious health danger posed by wildfire smoke.

Created by the McCann West creative team of Justin Tabakian and Jordan Finlayson, the bilingual awareness campaign directly compares wildfires to cigarettes, with burning trees resembling the filter, and the billowing white smoke constituting the main part of the tube.

“When our forests are smoking, so are you,” reads the accompanying headline, which directs people to a dedicated web resource at The site provides tips for how people can protect their lungs from wildfire smoke.

The billboard ads are running across the country, with an emphasis on B.C., Alberta, Ontario and Quebec, all of which experienced major wildfires this year. A newspaper ad will also run in The Globe and Mail. Creative and media for the campaign was handled by McCann West in Calgary.

Because of forest fires in northeastern Ontario and Quebec, Toronto’s air quality index on June 28 was the worst in the world, with a reading of 184. According to an online AQI to cigarettes calculator, 24 hours of exposure to air that poor is equivalent to smoking 5.6 cigarettes.

But even as the wildfire smoke blocked out the sun and turned the sky above North America orange, many people could still be seen blithely going about their day, said Brian Allen, executive creative director of McCann West in Calgary. “Even with the news coverage, it seemed many people were unaware of the dangers of being outside when wildfires were raging,” he said. “It wasn’t uncommon to see a cyclist or a jogger out when the sky was orange with wildfire smoke.”

Thanks in large part to the awareness work done by the Canadian Lung Association and other associations around the world over the years, many Canadians tend to equate poor lung health with smoking, meaning the campaign visual would carry the same message, said Allen.

While the campaign’s visual component remained largely unchanged from the beginning, the creative team did experiment with various headlines. “We were actually calling out how many cigarettes it was equivalent to if you stayed outside for a day, but it wasn’t as impactful,” said Allen. “So we stuck with the [high-level] message that breathing this smoke is like smoking cigarettes.”

Chris Powell