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« Spot the difference: how the Advertising Standards Authority changed its tune | Main | Coming up … ASA set to publish adjudication on Forest complaint »

At last, the ASA verdict on Forest complaint about DH "mutation" ad

The Advertising Standards Authority has finally adjudicated on Forest's complaint about a Department of Health advertisement that claimed “Every 15 cigarettes you smoke will cause a mutation".

It's only taken 18 months.

The DH's 'mutation health harms' campaign was launched on television on December 28, 2012. According to the voiceover:

“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 would stop.”

Angela Harbutt submitted Forest's complaint on January 14, 2013. It was based on two counts: misleading information and the omission of material information.

Since then the ASA has commissioned an independent expert to examine the evidence, given the DH every opportunity to challenge our complaint, and issued no fewer than THREE draft recommendations.

The first was sent to us in November 2013, the second in April 2014, the third in June.

Each time Forest's complaint was UPHELD and every time the DH was instructed to withdraw the advertisement.

Each recommendation however came with a request to treat it as confidential "until the final report is published". There were two reasons for this:

One, in its wisdom the ASA decided the DH could challenge not just the first recommendation (fair enough) but even the second.

Two, the third and final recommendation had to be considered by the ASA Council led by former Labour minister Lord Smith before the final adjudication could be released to the world.

The Council met on July 18 and made its decision but even then we were asked to keep it confidential until July 30 when it "will be published on the ASA website".

And guess what? After a tortuous investigation during which the ASA executive repeatedly recommended that our complaint be upheld, the ASA Council rejected it!

That's right, our complaint was NOT upheld.

Incredibly the ASA Council has ignored the recommendation of its own executive (which commissioned a report from an independent expert) and sided with the Department of Health.

You couldn't make it up.

Full correspondence to follow. In the meantime, here's Forest's response to this extraordinary turn of events:

NEWS RELEASE Embargoed July 30, 2014, 00:01hrs

ASA's TV ad verdict "inexplicable" says Forest

A consumer group has described as “inexplicable” a decision by the Advertising Standards Authority to reject a complaint about a television advertisement for the NHS smoke free campaign.

The ad, broadcast in January 2013, featured a man lighting a cigarette outside his house. A growth appeared on the cigarette that increased in size as he smoked. A voiceover stated:

“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 would stop.”

The advertisement generated 18 complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority including one from the smokers’ group Forest.

According to Forest the advertisement was misleading because it was based on a statement that was tentative not categorical. It also omitted material information. As a result it contravened the Advertising Code.

In the course of an 18-month investigation the ASA’s executive team recommended three times that Forest’s complaint be upheld and the advertisement withdrawn.

The first two recommendations were challenged by the Department of Health. Having considered the DH’s response, the ASA executive submitted to the ASA Council its final recommendation. For a third time it upheld Forest’s complaint.

Today [30th July] the ASA Council published its own verdict: complaint not upheld.

Simon Clark, director of Forest, said: “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.”

Clark added:

“We have requested an independent review of the Council’s adjudication because we are determined to challenge this baffling decision.

“The public has a right to be educated about the health risks of smoking but information must be based on incontrovertible evidence. This advertisement fell short of that and should be withdrawn.”

It will take a dedicated journalist to plough through all the correspondence, so don't expect to see this story in the mainstream media, but I hope you will agree it stinks.

Needless to say we have no intention of letting this rest. I'll keep you posted.

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Reader Comments (8)

If I'd undergone a mutation with every fifteen tabs I smoked, I'd have changed species by now. Their rubbish just gets sillier and less plausible by the day...

Wednesday, July 30, 2014 at 0:37 | Unregistered CommenterMac McCubbin

Tentacles of Tobacco Control reach far and wide

I’m sorry to hear this result Simon because I know how hard Forest has worked on this based on a rock solid foundation that is irrefutable. This is the result that can only please Tobacco Control since the ASA Council decision relies purely and simply on spurious conjecture and is not based in any scientific fact that would have been given by the ASA Council.

This effectively means only one thing which is that the Council is following the government agenda on social engineering and therefore this is not about scientific and medical fact which must be proved. When you have sympathy towards Tobacco Control which reaches so far and wide, then it is almost impossible for sensible scrutiny to prevail in a way no matter how good your case. The ASA Executive knew all along that the DH had at best a very weak case and said so – as did the independent expert.

The ASA Council headed by Lord Smith (who I think voted moderately in favour of the smoking ban), have not acted with honesty and integrity with regard to hard facts placed before them, and when they have the final say it’s difficult to see where you go from here.

Yes…it does stink!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014 at 2:55 | Unregistered CommenterDennis

Seems Mystic Meg was right then. Well, almost - it sounds as if it wasn't quite the pushover that I anticipated.

But it’s curious, isn’t it, how these challenges to the anti-smoking “message” always seem to take a zillion years before finally – and almost always inevitably – deciding against the challenge. It reminds me somewhat of the extraordinarily protracted decision over the court case which was brought by psychiatric in-patients at one of the large psychiatric hospitals (sorry, can’t remember the name of the place, now, but someone else on here might). Patients at the hospital – many of whom were not permitted to leave the site - asserted that a proposed ban both in the hospital buildings and grounds, was an infringement on their right to smoke in their private accommodation – it would, of course, have been different if they were out-patients or voluntary in-patients because they would be able to leave the site, but this wasn’t the case.

The decision was delayed and delayed and delayed and it seemed very clear that the three judges considering the case were only too aware that an infringement was taking place, but they were frantically scrabbling around to try and find a good reason to refute the challenge, to the extent that one had to wonder whether pressure was being brought behind the scenes for them to make the “right” decision. In the end, they did the only thing which they could do in the absence of any fair reason for maintaining the ban (because there wasn’t one) – they simply said that as a workplace a ban was necessary inside, and they felt that to expect staff to accompany some patients outside for smoking breaks (which they would have to do for security reasons) was impractical. In essence, then, the convenience of staff was given as a reason for trampling the legal rights of patients. It was an inhumane, disgraceful and cruel decision made against highly vulnerable, sick people, and it was an ominous sign of just how low the anti-smoking movement will stoop to ensure that no challenge, debate or objection to any of their anti-smoking rules is permitted to be successful. Ever.

So, no surprises with this latest decision then, Simon!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014 at 3:15 | Unregistered CommenterMisty

The ASA Council seem to have undermined the ASA code of conduct.

Other advertisers will be able to cite this 'decision' in defense of their ads. especially the use of a sample of 1 plus an 'expert consultant' to justify a claim.

The consequences of this 'decision' could be far reaching and have implications that go beyond Tobacco control.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014 at 9:02 | Unregistered Commenterwest2

You are completely correct Simon. The DH position is utterly indefensible from an objective scientific perspective and the ASA appears to be guilty of a disgraceful cover up. The DH is corrupt and utterly unfit for purpose but is apparently untouchable. I see no reason to trust anything that it produces or to obey any laws enacted at its behest. It appears that right and wrong have no meaning when tobacco control ideology is involved and that is an extremely unhealthy state of affairs.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014 at 10:41 | Unregistered CommenterChris Oakley

I recall thinking they altered the advert after a while. Is this true?

Wednesday, July 30, 2014 at 10:51 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan Bagley

In the US it's double-amputees or people missing bits of jaw and teeth saying that it's all smoking's fault (no personal responsibility or even context about their lives). Rhetoric ad infinitum hoping that, through fear, it may really be possible to displace the truth by repeating a lie.

I can't imagine any scenario where these holier-than-thou hand-wringers have motivations beyond greed (big money in social-engineering) and narcissistic entitlement to whatever pleases their inner-crybabies.

Oh and that first comment about changing species made me laugh. Imagine how many rebellious young (and not young) comic fans would instantly pick up smoking if that were true!

"I can be a mutant too?!?" :D

Thursday, August 7, 2014 at 23:50 | Unregistered CommenterAdAbsurdity

How can this be allowed, this advert is sick, I smoke and dont want to! I already am trying to stop this wont make it any easier and will just make me more depressed, as if smokers dont feel bad enough as it is. That advert makes me so depressed it makes me want another. GROSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Saturday, January 10, 2015 at 22:33 | Unregistered CommenterBob

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