Opinion: Tobacco’s public image will never be a good one

Government charges that some agencies have been willing accomplices in the undermining of its ban on tobacco promotion (Campaign, last week) are highly damaging to advertising’s image because they are hard to refute.

Government charges that some agencies have been willing accomplices

in the undermining of its ban on tobacco promotion (Campaign, last week)

are highly damaging to advertising’s image because they are hard to

refute.



Just when the industry seems to be banishing any lingering public

perceptions of it as an evil seducer, along comes the tobacco issue

again to reinforce all the remaining prejudice.



The latest blow has been delivered by members of the all-party Commons

Health Select Committee, who declare themselves aghast at the extent of

what they see as agency duplicity contained in the raft of internal

documents turned over to them.



Little matter that a lot of the suggestions mooted in the memos are

crass, ludicrous and juvenile. One wonders who was responsible for

suggesting sponsorship of Gay Pride under the slogan ’Rights for

fags’.



Little matter also that the agencies claim these suggestions were

strangled at birth or that the tobacco companies insist such ideas were

never put to them and would, in any case, have been thrown out.



Even though such ideas are said to have come from relatively junior

staff, they will be seen as indicative of a climate in which dirty

tricks merit consideration. ’It demonstrates the immorality of

advertising,’ Peter Brand, a select committee member, commented.



All this is simply more evidence of the increasingly uncomfortable

relationship between agencies and tobacco manufacturers and the dilemmas

it throws up.



Cigarette companies have been the most profitable and most steadfast

clients for agencies. Gallaher was one of the first to go with Maurice

Saatchi when he left Charlotte Street and will expect his loyalty in

return.



The problem is that cigarettes are products like no other. The argument

that because they are legally produced they should be legally advertised

pales against the UK’s 120,000 smoking-related deaths a year.



Agencies may see themselves as amoral advocates. But, with tobacco, the

public will bracket them with smart lawyers trying to keep serial

killers out of jail.



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