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In its continuing effort to win a prize for “Most shameless distortion of the facts on smoking”, Germany's Reemtsma has submitted another entry in Poland. This billboard ad is the first to show so much of the youthful flesh behind which tobacco executives hide.1 But like all promotions of the addictive product that kills half the people who use it, this one is much more interesting for what it does not expose than for what it does.
To those familiar with 1999 political debates in Poland, this particular “Test the West” imagery was clearly designed to ridicule efforts to ban tobacco advertising and promotion. Ironically, it was Reemtsma and other tobacco transnationals that were trying desperately to keep pernicious Western trends out of Poland—especially declining cigarette consumption and increasing marketing restrictions.
This otherwise revealing ad fails to point out that:
the West—that is, the European Union—adopted a complete ban on cigarette advertising and promotion in 1998;
on 23 April 1999 all cigarette billboard advertisements in the United States were removed, permanently, and replaced by anti-smoking ads at the expense of tobacco companies;
scientific research has recently pointed to cigarette smoke as a cause of breast cancer2-4;
and the link between smoking and male impotence is well established.
Unfortunately the Polish Catholic Church played into the hands of the German tobacco company by condemning the ad for its exposure of harmless flesh, rather than for glamourising a deadly product. After a few days of enormous free publicity, Reemtsma happily covered the offending breasts with the word “CENZURA”, thereby even further increasing the appeal of the ad, and further trivialising the issue of tobacco and health. Result—another victory for the “Bad Guys”.
PS: This tobacco win was short lived. Five months later, in September 1999, Poland's parliamentarians voted 374-11 in favour of a complete ban on tobacco advertising and promotion.
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