A view from Dave Trott: Not a leg to stand on
A view from Dave Trott

Not a leg to stand on

In Metz, in northeast France, a family were ready to eat dinner.

They were waiting for their son to come back from Luxembourg.

As he walked in, he dropped a pack of rolling tobacco on the table.

They looked at it, there was a horrible photo on the packet.

It was an amputated leg, the stump had healed into an ugly lump.

Next to it was the headline: "Smoking clogs your arteries."

At first, they were repelled, then they recognised it, it was their 60-year-old father’s leg.

The son said he’d brought it because it was on sale all over Europe.

He asked his father whether he’d agreed to let them use the picture.

His father said, of course not, he was embarrassed about the ugly amputation and kept it covered up at all times.

Anyway, he didn’t even lose his leg through smoking.

He lost it when he was shot in Albania in 1997.

So the son asked his dad, if he didn’t give them the picture where did they get it?

All he could think of was that in 2018 he went into the local French hospital to see whether he could get a prosthetic leg fitted.

They took some pictures of his stump but the hospital never got back to him. 

This must have been one of those pictures.

The family employed a lawyer, Antoine Fittante, who contacted the European Commission.

According to European Law, 65% of tobacco packaging has to be given over to a photograph of a medical condition caused by smoking.

The European Commission denied it was a photograph of his client.

They said they had a library of 42 images, which they used for tobacco packaging.

Every person depicted in the library signed a consent form. 

They didn’t have his client listed. "We can confirm the individual mentioned is not depicted in the library of health warnings," a spokesperson said.

And in any case, the library had not been updated since 2014, before the man visited the hospital.

But, as Fittante says: "Each scar is specific, unique. This man also has burn marks on the other leg, it’s very clear. An expert will have no trouble identifying the image." 

So, either the man who has a unique amputation he sees every day can’t recognise it, or bureaucrats are engaged in an arse-covering exercise.

Either way, that story has now been carried by the BBC, The Guardian, The Independent, The Sun, the Daily Mail, Metro, the Evening Standard and CNN, and that’s just in the UK.

So you know how the conversation will go in pubs.

Man 1: "Coming outside for a fag?"

Man 2: "No they clog your arteries, you can lose your leg."

Man 1: "Don’t believe that, didn’t you see in the paper, that bloke in the photo they used wasn’t even a smoker."

Man 2: "Really?"

Man 1: "Yeah, obviously couldn’t find a photo of a smoker who’d lost his leg."

So, by the time the newspaper stories have filtered down to the public, it won’t matter because, anyway, it’s a better story that it wasn’t.

So either way, the photo of him does more harm than good.

Was it laziness, incompetence, or bad luck on the part of the agency?

All I know is that controversy works, and showing deformities has become so commonplace it isn’t really controversial any more.

There’s a difference between controversial and just disgusting.

But when the authorities are caught cheating, everyone enjoys that.

And a new controversy will always beat an old one.

Dave Trott is the author of Creative Blindness and How to Cure It, Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three