If you want to make someone in advertising squirm, then ask them to
defend tobacco advertising against the charge that it encourages young
people to smoke. This is normally the cue for a prolonged bout of hand-
wringing, followed by the assertion that tobacco ads don’t actually
encourage people to smoke but are, in fact, all about persuading smokers
to switch brands.
People working in the ad industry are shooting themselves in the foot.
It’s a bit like a publisher defending a libel action by claiming that
nobody read the magazine or newspaper. All advertising is about
encouraging people to try and/or buy more of a product, so it is
ridiculous to claim that tobacco ads are an exception to the rule.
Imagine saying to a financial services advertiser: ‘Of course, this
advertising isn’t about getting people to open a bank account, it’s only
designed to get them to move their banking from Barclays or Abbey
The ad industry has done this for years, while opponents of tobacco ads
rest their case on the power of advertising to change people’s
consumption habits, which is, to say the least, a strange state of
affairs. It’s not surprising then, that this is somewhat dodgy ground to
fight the case against tobacco advertising censorship, which explains
why the voluntary code of self-regulation is proving to be a thorn in
the ad industry’s side. You cannot defend advertising against its many,
and varied, opponents by denying that it does what it is supposed to do.
Belatedly, the industry seems to have come to its senses, which is why
the decision to shift the fight against tobacco censorship to the
European courts, and make it an issue of commercial freedom of speech
(Campaign, last week), may turn out to be a landmark.
Naturally, the tobacco companies may be reluctant to lead the way on
this issue. Certainly, they deserve the support of other clients but,
since they have the most to lose, they should not be backward about