Semiotic analysis seeks to expose the underlying message conveyed through the use of a
given medium. The aim of studying a picture, symbol or sign, is to provide a more
comprehensive perspective on its use in conveying information to a given target audience (Culler
This analysis will employ semiotics in studying the picture below. It shows an adult male
sticking out his hand out of the car while holding a lit cigarette. There is a child in the back seat
of the car holding a bottle of water, which he is pouring on the lit cigarette. The formulated thesis
simply states, “Smothering Second-hand Smoking”.
From the picture, there are three signs used which are:
1. An adult male,
2. Cigarette and water
3. A child
Figure 1: The medium.
Sign Denotative Meaning Connotative Meaning
Male Adult Smokers, of which male adults
constitute the dominant group.
Leadership role of a man in the family setting,
depicting his role as both a mentor and
Putting out a lit cigarette. Society’s wish for a cigarette smoke-free
environment. Public health initiatives to
eliminate exposure to second hand smoking.
Child Innocence, the youth and
Victims of exposure to second-hand cigarette
smoking. Also represents the non-smoking
masses, especially those under 18 years.
Table1. The three most visible signs in the medium, alongside their denotative as well as the
The three signs identified are effective in conveying the intended message to the target
audience. The man holding a lit cigar denotes adult smokers’ population which, according to a
recent study by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is dominated by adult males. This is
a strong indicator of the intended audience for the message being communicated. The man also
brings out the connotation of the leadership role that men, as the majority of current smokers,
should play curbing second-hand smoking.
The second sign is that of a cigarette stick and water. The water being poured by the child
denotes the action of extinguishing the lit cigarette stick. This act is connotative of the various
interventions to sensitize the general public on the harmful effects of exposure to second-hand
cigarette smoke. It is also representative of the demand for a cigarette smoke-free environment
by the larger non-smoking population. Smoking in public places, homes and in cars presents a
major challenge to the control of passive smoking.
According to the Office of the Surgeon General, the child in the picture is representative
of the innocence of those exposed to second hand smoking. It also denotes the non-smoking
segment of the population which is largely composed of persons under the age of 18 years. The
connotative meaning being expressed here is the wanton suffering that this population is put
through by smokers.
Exposure to second-hand cigarette smoke is a leading cause of death, and a number of
diseases, within the non-smoking population. According to the American Lung Association, this
both directly and indirectly contributes to as many as 3400 deaths arising from lung cancer and
69000 deaths caused by heart failure. These two health conditions are directly related as lung
cancer is well known to be a risk factor for the development of heart diseases. Worse still, an
estimated 35% of all children are directly exposed to second-hand cigarette either in their homes
or in their external environments. This has given rise to a heightened global campaign aimed at
minimizing exposure to cigarette smoke.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Exposures to cigarette smoke,
whether through directly smoking or as a secondary smoker, are equally harmful to one’s
physical well-being. The smoke has been found to contain thousands of compounds which are
harmful to the health of humans. Tobacco smoke is recognized globally as a leading cause of
terminal illnesses and death. In the U.S. alone, it is responsible for as many as 434000 deaths
annually. A chemical analysis, carried out by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,
revealed that tobacco smoke contains as many as 4000 different cancer causing agents.
Table 2: Some of the carcinogenic compounds found in tobacco smoke (Source: U.S.
From the table above, it is evident that the tobacco smoke has serious implications to
public health which explains the need to curb exposure to cigarette smoke. The picture used
serves as an ideal tool for communicating this crucial public health message.
The use of a black and white photo as opposed to a colored one is indicative of the
graveness of the matter being communicated. The car appears motionless signifying the
retrogressive effect cigarette smoking has on the socio-economic status of the society.
In addition, the idea of a the man smoking inside the car communicates the concern
the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on the increase in the number of children exposed to
passive cigarette smoking. The child in the photo represents a symbol for change. His action of
pouring water on the lit cigarette stick is indicative of the intensified awareness campaigns on the
danger of passive smoking. The child also portrays the innocent state of those affected by
second-hand tobacco smoke. Bottled water comes at a cost and it being poured out in the photo
represents the need to mobilize resources and double efforts in controlling smoking in homes,
cars and other public spaces.
The message communicated by this medium can be summed up in the thesis “Smothering
Second-hand Smoking.” This picture serves as a strong reminder to the general public that they
too have a responsibility in curbing the spread of lung cancer and heart diseases caused by
passive smoking. It effectively serves to relay this crucial public health message to the targeted
audience which is the smokers.
The message does have a good-fit within in the public sphere due to its public health
implications. This campaign to eradicate smoking in public places is justified by the high
numbers of deaths related to exposure to cigarette smoke and the equally big number of cancer
patients. There are multiple public spheres including governmental agencies which are
responsible for enforcing rules governing public health and environmental protection. The other
sphere includes stakeholders such as cigarette manufacturers and other organizations to fund this
Politicians are also called upon to formulate stiffer legislations that will guard the
vulnerable non-smoking masses from exposure to passive- smoking. Environmental and public
health activists are also called upon to continue rallying for the eradication of smoking in public
places. This discussion does involve all members of the society because of the weighty
implications cigarette smoking has on both public health and environmental safety concerns.
From this research, I got a deeper appreciation of the public health implications of
tobacco smoke as well as the use of medium to communicate both effectively and creatively.
The thesis for this analysis is “Smothering Second-hand Smoking”. From the forgoing
discussion it is evident that pictures are a potent medium for communication. The three signs
pointed out are effective in conveying the intended message to the targeted audience.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Vital Signs: Current Cigarette Smoking among
Adults Aged ≥18, 2009. Web. 30 Nov. 2011
Culler, Jonathan. The Pursuit of Signs: Semiotics, Literature, Deconstruction. Ithaca: Cornell
University Press, 1985. Print.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Office of the Surgeon General. The Health
Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke: A Report of the Surgeon
General, 2006. Web. 30 Nov. 2011
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Smoke-free Homes and Cars Program. Fact Sheet:
Respiratory Health Effects of Passive Smoking, 2010. Web. 30 Nov. 2011.