PARIS (Reuters Life!) - An anti-smoking campaign showing teenagers in a pose suggesting fellatio with a cigarette has caused an uproar in France, with critics arguing it plays down sexual abuse and distracts from real health threats.
The ads, presented earlier this week, show an older man in a suit pushing down on the head of a teenager with a cigarette in his mouth, in a position that suggests oral sex. The accompanying slogan reads: "Smoking means being a slave to tobacco."
"The campaign trivializes sexual abuse -- worse, it implies guilt on the part of the abused," read one angry comment on the website of "Droits des Non-Fumeurs" ("Non-smokers' Rights), the organization behind the campaign.
Droits des Non-Fumeurs said the posters showed neither rape nor abuse, but were meant to create a shock effect and have an impact on young smokers that more traditional campaigns lacked. It plans to publish the ads in newspapers and bars.
"The campaign targets young people who see cigarettes as symbols of emancipation, of freedom, when it really causes dependency and submission," Droits des Non-Fumeurs said in an online discussion.
France has cracked down on cigarettes along with other European countries, declaring them a major threat to public health and imposing smoking bans on cafes, bars and restaurants.
Tobacco is the number one cause of avoidable deaths as well as of cancer in France, according to the health ministry. Half of French students over 14 have tried it at some point.
While Droits des Non-Fumeurs argues that young smokers tend to ignore ads focusing on health, other activists were doubtful about the effectiveness of more unconventional posters.
"As far as I know, practicing fellatio doesn't cause cancer," activist Antoinette Fouque of the Movement for Women's Liberation said in Le Parisien newspaper on Tuesday.
Editing by Paul Casciato