German government under attack for anti-smoking advertisements

BMJ 2003; 327 doi: (Published 14 August 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;327:360
  1. Annette Tuffs
  1. Heidelberg

    German Cancer Aid, the leading German cancer charity, has asked the German health ministry to stop its anti-smoking advertising campaign (“smoke free”) immediately.

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    “Smoking makes you grown up. That's right: your skin, blood vessels in the brain, and arteries age more quickly”

    The campaign, funded by the tobacco industry, is intended to prevent young people taking up smoking. But a spokesperson for the charity claims that the series of attractive advertisements glamorises smoking rather than deterring people from taking it up.

    The advertisements show attractive young people smoking, accompanied by big slogans such as “Smoking soothes” and “Smokers have contacts” and with statements in smaller type such as “Right, but with carcinogenic substances such as arsenic, radon, or tar.”

    The criticism was supported by delegates at the recent world conference on tobacco and health held in Helsinki. John Seffrin, president of the International Union against Cancer, said it was despicable that a government should take money from tobacco companies that dictate the conditions of an anti-smoking campaign.

    Two years ago the German health ministry signed a contract with the Association of Tobacco Industry guaranteeing financial support of €11.8m (£8.3m; $13.4m) over five years. The money must be used solely for campaigns for the prevention of smoking in children and young people. Under the contract the tobacco industry has no influence on the content or style of the campaigns. However, the contract says that “the measures must not discriminate against the tobacco industry, its products and the sale of cigarettes, or criticise adult smokers.”

    The German health ministry rejects the charity's criticism, pointing out the clause in the contract that sets out the independence of the campaign. Furthermore, a ministry spokeswoman said, the contract has always been made public.

    The Federal Centre for Health Education in Cologne, which developed the campaign, said that it was tested on a representative audience before it went public and this showed that the advertisements were not misunderstood and were clearly seen as anti-smoking.

    “We have to use attractive means to draw the attention of young people to the advertisements,” said Elisabeth Pott, the centre's director.

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