When a television public service campaign has even the French squirming uncomfortably, le monde takes notice.
An anti-smoking campaign that depicts teenagers in positions suggesting fellatio with a cigarette has sparked uproar in La Belle France, with critics denouncing the ads as offensive and drawing a false parallel between smoking and oral sex.
The commercials, sponsored by an anti-tobacco group called Droits des Non-fumeurs, or Nonsmokers’ Rights, depict an older man in a suit pushing his hand down on the head of a teenager whose lips are wrapped around a cigarette, suggesting fellatio.
The tag reads: “Smoking means being a slave to tobacco.”
A spokesman for the French ad agency that developed the campaign said the ads weren’t designed “to please or shock people, but to change, to put back into the news a topic we don’t talk about enough, which threatens young people.”
The French Office for the Prevention of Smoking reports that between 2004 and 2009, the numbers of French 14-year olds who smoke daily rose from 5% to 8%; among 16-year olds it increased from 14% to 18%; 25% of French 18-year-olds say they smoke every day.
The ad agency spokesman said that “young people think they’re invincible. They like to flirt with danger.” He noted that teens often think of smoking as a taboo, or “transgressive act.”
He said the ads were meant to convince them that smoking cigarettes is “an act of naïveté and submission.”
The group’s president said the point of the ads was to provoke a response from teens.
“Using sex is a way to get their attention. And if it’s necessary to shock, let’s shock,” said Gerard Audureau.