Pro-smoking group fails to stub out NHS smoke free ad

A pro-smoking group has failed in its attempt to get the long-running NHS “smoke free” TV ad campaign banned by the advertising watchdog.

Video: NHS “Smoke Free” TV ad


Forest (The Freedom Organisation For The Right To Enjoy Smoking Tobacco) said the ad, which features a growth appearing on a cigarette and increasing in size as a man smokes it, was misleading.

The pressure group, alongside 18 other individuals, complained the voiceover claim that “when you smoke, the chemicals you inhale cause mutations in your body and mutations are how cancer starts. Every 15 cigarettes you smoke will cause a mutation. If you could see the damage you’d stop” could not be substantiated.

The Department of Health said the claim was based on published, peer-reviewed scientific papers from “well respected sources” and supplied the relevant papers to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for its investigation.

Broadcast clearing body Clearcast had also initially queried the “one mutation per 15 cigarettes smoked” claim because it had believed it was too specific. However, it said its consultant was later convinced of its accuracy after reviewing two studies with a large pool of participants and approved the script.

The ASA took expert advice alongside reviewing the studies submitted by the Department of Health and found the average number of mutations per cigarette smoked was significantly higher than the 15 suggested in the ad.

The watchdog concluded that because the ad made a conservative claim, which was supported by evidence, it was substantiated and unlikely to mislead viewers.

Forest is seeking an independent review of the “baffling” ruling. It says its complaint was originally upheld by the ASA’s executive team three times over the course of the 18-month investigation which were challenged by the Department of Health, but that the ASA council [which is independent of the advertising industry and adjudicates complaints] took the opposite decision.

Simon Clark, director of Forest, says: ”The decision is inexplicable. Not only have ASA council members ignored the advice of their own executive, they have effectively rejected the report of an independent expert commissioned to advise the ASA on this complex issue.

“The Department of Health did everything it could to derail our complaint and were given every opportunity to do so. Despite this the ASA executive upheld our complaint three times. That speaks volumes.”