The folks at Freedom2Choose have been successful in getting Birmingham NHS to withdraw a particularly obnoxious anti-smoking commercial (also reported here). If you haven't seen it yet, click to play (it shouldn't be online much longer).
Freedom2Choose objected to it on the basis that it could encourage violence towards smokers. This does not seem to me to be an unreasonable objection. I've written before about the fine line between 'denormalisation' and hate-mongering. In recent years there have been too many incidents of what we might call smoking-related violence. Freedom2Choose presented a list to Birmingham NHS, including:
A non-smoker was jailed for two years yesterday for attacking a “deaf and mute” man who refused to stub out a cigarette.
Wales Online March 19 2008
A 17-year-old student was burned with a home-made flame thrower during a horrifying four-hour torture ordeal, a court heard.
Aerosol cans of air freshener and furniture polish were squirted at Katy James and the jets set alight with a naked flame. She was attacked by a gang of teenagers at the flat they shared in Burcot Lane, Bromsgrove, after her smoking was blamed for Hayley Kirby's miscarriage.
Her hair was set alight and she had to beat out the flames with her bare hands. Perfume was sprayed onto her stomach and also set on fire.
She was battered with a chair until its leg broke, punched, kicked and forced to drink a cocktail of coca-cola, cigarette ends and urine while her tormentors laughed, Worcester Crown Court was told.
Miss James, a vulnerable girl with learning problems, was lured home on March 23 where she was attacked by Kirby, her boyfriend Robert Hart, Wynette Darkes and her boyfriend James Smale. Kirby claimed that on that day she was told by a hospital that smoke in her body had caused her to lose the child, said Nicolas Cartwright, prosecuting.
Bromgrove Advertiser 18 December 2006
A drinker has taken offence to a fellow drinker lighting up a cigarette in a pub and went to extreme measures to stop him - he shot the smoker in the head, killing him.
The dispute between the 50-year-old gunman and the 35-year-old smoker broke out at the Flash Road Bar in Kwartel Street, Birch Acres, Kempton Park, on Saturday night.
Independent Online 7 December 2004
Authorities allege an argument over smoking led a Brooklyn Center man to slash his wife's throat, severing her tongue and windpipe.
Authorities say Meg Lundeen and her husband, Randy Aaser, visited a couple bars with friends and colleagues to celebrate her 30th birthday Friday night. According to the complaint, she told a friend she wanted to buy cigarettes, but that she had quit smoking and that her husband would be mad if he found out.
Authorities say Lundeen was attacked later at the couple's house.
Associated Press June 13 2007
The case of the 17 year old girl is particularly troubling, since the doctor had no evidence to support his claim that secondhand smoke led to her assailant's miscarriage. This seems to be a case of 'if in doubt, blame tobacco'. Many white lies told about secondhand smoke are justified on the basis that anything that discourages smoking can't be a bad thing. "What harm can it do?", they say. This case shows the harm it can do.
Let's be clear. The responsibility for all of these horrific crimes lies with the people who committed them. But since tobacco control is set on 'denormalision', it must at least recognise the dangers of such state-sponsored stigmatisation and behave responsibly. That means erring on the side of caution and this particular campaign, in my view, oversteps the mark.
Yes, I understand the subtext of this advert, but ultimately it shows someone lighting a cigarette and then being beaten half to death as a result. For some disturbed people lurking in the darker reaches of the internet (I won't link to the sites I have in mind) this video represents some sort of wish-fulfillment. It should have been forseeable that certain individuals would get a frisson of excitement from it. The Department of Health should not be doing anything that might encourage denormalisation to spill over into violence.
I'm not suggesting that people in the public health movement want to personally assault smokers. I wouldn't even suggest that this advert alone could necessarily lead to smokers being assaulted. But it adds to a growing culture of aggression towards people who smoke.
Above all, I'd like to know what was going through the head of the person who came up with the advert and ask why public money was spent producing it.
[Thanks for Dave and Brenda at F2C for the news reports]