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A frequent theme in tobacco advertising in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union is to exploit the fact, real or perceived, that people are now part of a wider community of nations. “Test the West” was an early example from the German firm Reemtsma: an invitation to try the “superior” cigarettes that had been the exclusive preserve of western Europeans but now, thanks to democratisation, were at last available to all. Some promotions even gave citizens of the new market economies a whole new pack of western cigarettes in exchange for their old, state manufactured cigarettes. These were promptly thrown in a bin to rub in the fact that their “quality” was so inferior compared to the new brand that incineration, without inhalation by their recent owner, was all they were fit for.
A recent campaign for the Philip Morris (PM) brand L&M in the Ukraine took a more passive line, but played up the new, much wider personal horizons of Ukrainian citizens, extending way beyond the old FSU, not just into western Europe, but right around what PM undoubtedly would have referred to in the past as “the free world”. Under a caption proclaiming “Flavour that unites the world”, the ads invited potential L&M smokers to consider themselves linked together, as if by membership of an exclusive club, with other potential lung cancer and heart disease patients in cities such as Stockholm, Bangkok, and Brasilia. Ironically, all those are capital cities of countries with strong tobacco control laws, whose citizens therefore are denied any link with the Ukrainian people's opportunity to see absurd ads promoting a product likely to kill about a half of those who use it throughout adult life.
In times of optimism, family themes work well, too, as people feel more confident about bringing new generations into the world, just as tobacco companies feel more confident about recruiting them as new customers. So it was that PM's Ukrainian advertisers ran a picture of a happy couple who are clearly expecting a new addition to the family. Above the slogan: “Connected to you – Luxembourg”, the man was not only connected to the woman by planting an intimate caress, even a love-bite, on the cheek of his kittenish partner, but also, by his right hand, to the unborn child in the woman's abdomen. Neither model was visibly smoking, though strangely, the man held his left hand in smoking posture and seemed to have injured the index finger of his right hand, possibly from a cigarette burn, or a prior bite that went astray.
Visitors from The Netherlands were as shocked as Ukrainian health advocates and telephoned PM's Dutch office when they got home, asking whether the company encouraged smoking during pregnancy. The local office immediately contacted PM's regional headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland. A leading Dutch newspaper ran the story, which was duly picked up by radio stations, and back in the Ukraine, local health advocates worked the press and broadcasting media. Shortly afterwards, while refusing to return journalists' telephone calls, PM replaced the images with other L&M ads without pregnant models.
In a sickening example of the international tobacco industry's “We've changed!” image rehabilitation strategy, PM last year deluged the Ukraine with “health education” leaflets warning pregnant women against smoking. The appearance of the pregnant woman billboards is just another instance of a perennial truth about tobacco companies: however glossy the public relations tricks, the ideals they try to persuade the world they have adopted bear absolutely no resemblance to the activities of their marketing departments, where it's business as usual.