Anti-smoking ads spark scandal in France

Ads depicting teens in sexually subservient positions aim to discourage youth from smoking

Topics: France, Advertising,

A provocative anti-smoking ad campaign featuring teens in a subservient sexual position has sparked a storm of controversy in France, with the country’s family minister calling Wednesday for the advertisements to be banned.

The ad, sponsored by the Association for Nonsmokers’ Rights, features an adolescent who could be construed to be performing oral sex on a man in a suit, except the teen has a cigarette in his mouth. A caption reads, “Smoking means being a slave to tobacco.” There are two other ads in the same vein, one featuring a teenage girl.

The leader of the organization behind the campaign acknowledged the ads were meant to shock, and said such provocative campaigns were the only way to reach young people.

“Traditional advertisements targeting teens don’t affect them. Talking about issues of health, illness or even death, they don’t get it,” the group’s director, Remi Parola, told The Associated Press in an interview. “However, when we talk about submission and dependence, they listen.”

Parola insisted the ads — developed pro-bono by the BBDP & Fils advertising agency — were not really about sex at all.

“The visuals have a sexual connotation, that I can’t deny, but it’s really a way to start a discussion with young people to get them to understand the dangers of smoking.”

The advertisements have not been used in France, but photos of them have accompanied media stories published since the association launched its ad campaign on Monday.

Family Minister Nadine Morano thinks otherwise. Speaking Wednesday on RMC radio, Morano added her voice to the growing chorus of those offended by the graphic ads.

“I think this might constitute an affront on public decency, indecent exposure,” she said, adding that she is looking into getting the ads banned. “There are other ways to explain to teenagers that cigarettes are addictive.”

Representatives of pro-family groups have denounced the ads as ineffective and even pornographic and also have called for them to be banned.



France has long battled teenage smoking. Despite a 2008 ban on smoking in bars, restaurants and other public places and efforts to crack down on those who sell cigarettes to minors, the habit remains prevalent among the country’s youth. Fully one-third of 17-year-olds here smoke, according to a 2008 study by the French Watchdog of Drugs and Addictions.

France is no stranger to grisly or hard-to-watch public interest ad campaigns. A recent road safety campaign featured close-ups of the mangled bodies of accident victims, while a TV spot featured violent car crashes taking place in real time.

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