French Ad Shocks, but Will It Stop Young Smokers?

PARIS — A new French antismoking advertisement aimed at the young that plays off a pornographic stereotype has gotten more attention than even its creators intended, and critics suggest that it offends common decency and creates a false analogy between oral sex and smoking.

quit smoking ads

France has banned smoking in cafes, bars and restaurants. But smoking is still increasing among the young in France, according to the French Office for the Prevention of Smoking, prompting an antitobacco organization called Droits des Non-fumeurs, or Nonsmokers’ Rights, to create the ad.

The slogan is bland enough: “To smoke is to be a slave to tobacco.” But it accompanies photographs of an older man, his torso seen from the side, pushing down on the head of a teenage girl with a cigarette in her mouth. Her eyes are at belt level, glancing upward fearfully. The cigarette appears to emerge from the adult’s trousers.

Two other ads show young men in the same position as the girl, though the adult is wearing a suit jacket and a watch.

Marco de la Fuente, vice president of BDDP & Fils, the advertising firm that created the campaign, said the ads were not designed either “to please or to shock people, but to change, to put back into the news a topic we don’t talk about enough, which threatens young people.”

According to the French Office for the Prevention of Smoking, between 2004 and 2007, and 2008 and 2009, the percentage of daily smokers among French 14-year-olds rose to 8 percent from 5 percent; among 16-year-olds, it increased to 18 percent from 14 percent. A quarter of 18-year-olds are daily smokers.

“The younger you begin to smoke, the stronger the addiction,” Mr. de la Fuente said in an interview. “But young people think they’re invincible. They like to flirt with danger.” He added that young people saw smoking as a symbol of emancipation, a passage to adulthood and a “transgressive act.”

The ads, he said, try to convince them that smoking is “an act of naïveté and submission.”

He continued: “We can’t be tepid on this subject; we have to hit hard. We are working against years of myth on the basis of films and stars, and we fight against this with zero euros.”

But the reaction on the Web site of Droits des Non-fumeurs has been mixed. One comment read, “The campaign trivializes sexual abuse — worse, it implies guilt on the part of the abused.”

Florence Montreynaud, the president of La Meute des Chiennes de Garde, or the Pack of Female Watchdogs, which opposes symbols of sexual violence in films and advertising, called the ads “unbearable” and said “what is most shocking is the banalization of sexual violence.”

She is a feminist, she said, and a longtime member of Droits des Non-fumeurs. “But it is terrible to represent in the public space this kind of image restricted to pornography,” she added. “I’m appalled. It’s a poverty of imagination. When people have no ideas, they use female bodies.”

Nadine Morano, the secretary of state for the family, said she wanted the campaign to stop, saying she found the symbolism intolerable. “One can shock on the issue of tobacco, that doesn’t bother me, but there are other campaigns to do instead of this one,” she told Radio Monte Carlo.

The president of Droits des Non-fumeurs, Gérard Audureau, said the campaign was started after being viewed favorably by high school students. For 18 years, he said, “we did it gently, on the health aspect, with deteriorated lungs, but young people feel invincible, immortal.”

The newspaper Le Parisien quoted him as saying: “Using sex is a way to get their attention. And if it’s necessary to shock, let’s shock.”

Bertrand Dautzenberg, president of the French Office for the Prevention of Smoking, doubted the ads would work. Quoted in Le Parisien, he said, “This will shock adults while not scaring kids.”

February 23, 2010

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