B.U.G.A.  U.P.
Billboard Utilising Graffitists Against Unhealthy Promotions

Some FAQs about BUGA-UP


Substantially reproduced from the Spring Catalogue of 1981

BUGA-UP held its first public meeting in Sydney, in October 1980. Despite the fact that it was poorly advertised (there were very few blank billboards around at the the time) over fifty people attended. We showed slides and discussed our work, and most importantly, recruited new graffitists.

Having doubled our numbers, we launched our first organised "offensive" - the BUGA-UP Summer Offensive. The plan was to graffiti on all tobacco and alcohol billboards on government (public) property in Sydney - several hundred billboards.

We felt then, and still feel, that the hypocrisy of the NSW State Government is particularly intolerable and demands immediate action. Its own Health Commission recognises that up to 40 people per day in Australia die from tobacco and alcohol related diseases. Each year, the Health Minister outlays millions of dollars (taxpayersí money) on caring for those suffering these diseases. Yet over 50% of tobacco and alcohol billboards and posters are on government property - that is on railway stations and on the sides of buses.

Spring Catalogue of 1981, Summer OffensiveIn the Offensive, graffiti such as "Health and Transport Ministers - the Real Drug Pushers", "P.T.C.* Promotes Terminal Cancer", and "Government Kill-boards", highlighted these contradictions and sought to embarass the government which claims to be "actively discouraging the use of any drug". (Neville Wran, City Extra, ABC Radio, 9/81).

* Public Transport Commission

The public support that emerged from the Summer Offensive prompted us to establish an official postal address in February 1981, so that people wanting to "lend a can" for the movement could become involved. In addition to this, the occasional "brush" with the Law led us to organise a Fighting Fund.

Through an appeal in a national weekly newspaper, and by utilising several blank billboards, we called for financial help. Cheques ranging from $1 to $100 were sent (and are still being sent). This money has been used to buy equipment, publish material such as this cataLogue, and to pay half the fines of any graffitist unable or unwilling to go to gaol. The graffitist pays the other half as incentive not to get "court". Money sent to the Fighting Fund isn't used to pay for legal representation, or to pay "compensation" to legal drug-pushers.


Two years, and many thousands of billboards later, Sydney BUGA-UP has had only 21 arrests. Of these, only 13 people have been convicted of "Wilful Deface" or "Malicious Injury" (to a billboard).

What about the Malicious Injury to community health and the Wilful Deface of our visual environment caused by billboard promotions?

Neither the government nor the law courts will answer this question. While they continue to protect corporate vandals by their silence, ordinary people like us will be forced to speak up - on the billboards.

Six people have continued speaking all the way to jail, deliberately refusing to pay fines imposed by the Courts. On one occasion the graffitist;s cellmates quit smoking. The advice of another graffitist, on paying fines is "Go directly to jail. Do not pass the buck. Do not pay $200" - the average fine imposed on convicted graffitists.


After two years hoping BUGA-UP would just die out, the Outdoor Advertising Association of Australia launched its first major campaign in an effort to swing public support away from us. OAAA and some "anonymous" advertisers committed $75,000 worth of advertising space and skills, in Sydney and Melbourne, to the Lions Club "Speak Up Against Vandalism" campaign.

The manager of a major outdoor advertising company, Australian Posters, stated that their contribution to the "Speak Up" campaign was a response to the "unwarranted publicity our friends from BUGA-UP have been getting." (Sydney Morning Herald 30/7/81, p. 2).

Surprise, surprise, the "Speak Up" posters have been placed predominantly on sites leased by tobacco and alcohol companies. Guess who is really footing the bill.


"Anyhow, have a "You know the rest and so do almost 100% of 13 year-old smokers who have taken part in extensive health surveys in NSW and WA.

The results show that children are directly influenced by cigarette advertising. So much so that over 50% of kids who smoke "choose" Winfield - nearly double the proportion of adults. Nearly all the rest smoke Benson and Hedges, Alpine and Marlboro.

These brands, more than any others, promote images which appeal to young people. Alpine promises the "gateway to womanhood", sexual activity and confidence; Marlboro promises freedom, potency and masculinity; Benson and Hedges - sophistication and status; and most insidiously there is the nonchalant, ocker confidence and fatalism of Winfieldís "Anyhow".

Health awareness amongst adults over 30 has meant an increasing number are cutting down, or stopping smoking altogether. Cigarette companies are replacing this lost revenue by redirecting their advertising towards children, 75% of whom are unaware of the associated health risks. (M. Swanson, WA Health Education Unit, Western Mail, 11/7/81).

The four brands mentioned here are all advertised on billboards, and although their images are particularly powerful, they are very susceptible to BUGA-UP ing.

We don't believe in slogansBeyond the billboard campaign, our work with kids has extended into primary and high schools where we have given talks and shown slides of refaced billboards. Kids donít seem much interested in listening to a white-coated doctor lecture them on the evils of smoking and drinking. It goes down like a graffitist on a broken ladder.

Instead our credibility with them is established by anecdotes about billboard graffiti, police and jail. The interest and dialogue this creates then provides an excellent forum for discussion about the health aspects of smoking and drinking, and the ways in which they can resist the pressure of advertising and peer groups.

Some of these kids, in consultation with their families, have become active in BUGA-UP .




Advertisements are one-way communication -specifically designed to influence us as consumers. Nowhere is this more obvious than with the ugly billboard advertisements which saturate our environment. The products pushed in these ads are often useless or positively harmful to our health. Yet, as individuals, without corporate resources, we have no effective legal right of reply if we object to the products themselves or the way in which they are promoted.

Instead, the companies are free to regulate themselves and do so in their own interest. For example, it took almost two years legal lobbying of the industryís self-regulatory council before it deigned to remove Paul Hogan (an acknowledged childrenís idol) from Winfield ads. However, true to form, it took this same council only ten days to remove the State Governmentís Healthy Lifestyle promotions following a complaint from a tobacco companyís advertiser. Itís enough to make you want to paint on a billboard and BUGA-UP their system.

Billboard graffiti begins a process of two-way communication, creating a dialogue where before there was only an instruction or threat that if we didnít live their lifestyle of booze, fags and mass consumption we were somehow inadequate. Take a look at the ads for LA beer and Sterling cigarettes for example.

Sterling invites us to join the elite world of the"idol" rich - the cigarette for the person who has (or is that wants?) everything. You know, those little everyday comforts, like the Ferrari with the 250 kph capacity for those beastly peak-hour traffic jams on the Harbour Bridge; the ocean-going yacht for your Sunday perve at Lady Jane Beach; and of course, the glider for doing the weekend shopping. Compare this scenario of tobacco-touting trendies with the cultivated ocker ordinariness of the ads for LA beer.

The introduction of LA (Low Alcohol) beer was heralded by the breweries as a gesture of their responsibility to the community. We were promised there would be fewer drink-drive accidents and less (or smaller?) beer-guts. Instead Tooths turned social responsibility on its head in the quest for bigger profits. "You Can Stay With Tooths LA" we were told - "Pay More, Piss More, Spew the Same" as the refaced billboard soon read. Prove your ocker manhood by being a stayer. No need to feel any more guilt about "one more for the road" -- Tooths has said itís OK.


Cartoon by Phil SomervilleBUGA-UP is fighting companies whose operations span continents and whose annual turnover rivals the Gross National Product of many countries. The power and money that these multinational corporations command is enormous - but so is the power of consumers. For example, it has been calculated by the NSW Health Commission that if every smoker gave up one cigarette per day, it would cost the tobacco companies $40 million per year.

With this money Australian smokers could buy 20 million spray cans - 5 for every smoker in Australia. So stubb a butt and put your "tinnies" to work - Speak Up, Act Up, BUGA-UP !