Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Birmingham East and North Primary Care Trust Forced to Remove Distasteful Anti-Smoking Ad

The Birmingham East and North NHS Trust was forced to remove an anti-smoking ad after several groups and individuals - some of whom are Rest of the Story readers - filed a compliant against the advertisement, arguing that it was not only offensive to smokers but that it promoted abuse of smokers.

The commercial depicts a smoker being brutally beaten by an invisible assailant. He is bleeding profusely and viciously abused. The message of the commercial is supposed to be that if you smoke, you are giving your body a physical beating.

According to its press release: "Freedom2Choose lodged a complaint against the material and upon consideration, the NHS Trust has agreed to remove it from all venues within the next two weeks. Phil Johnson, pub and club liaison officer of Freedom2Choose states, “I am thrilled about this decision as I have had several pub and club clientele contacting me and informing me that they had been abused as result of this material.” Freedom2Choose will actively campaign against the abuse and hatred that individuals continue to suffer as a result of modern anti-smoking techniques."

The Rest of the Story

While it is commendable that the NHS Trust responded positively and definitively by removing the ad, it should never have seen the light of day in the first place.

What would possess a public health agency to put out an advertisement that graphically depicts physical violence upon a smoker?

Can you imagine a public health group putting out the same ad about obesity? I doubt it. I think if a group was previewing a commercial which depicted an obese person being physically beaten, they would immediately realize that the ad was distasteful and that it sends an unintended message. That the same ad - except with a smoker instead of an obese person - apparently did not evoke the same sense in the NHS Trust suggests that abuse of smokers has become normalized to the point that some anti-smoking groups are subconsciously promoting violence against smokers.

When I see a story like this one, it makes me realize just how stigmatized smokers must feel. It explains much of the anger that many smokers have against the anti-smoking groups. I share that anger. And while I differ with groups like Freedom2Choose on the issue of workplace smoking bans, I support their efforts in campaigning against the abuse and hatred that many smokers continue to suffer as a result of increasingly extremist anti-smoking techniques.

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