Posted April 21, 2004
TEEN-MADE ANTI-SMOKING AD BANNED BY CBC
"The tobacco industry got inside our heads. We want to make sure it doesn't get into yours." So said 24 teenage girls from all over BC in October 2003. As participants in The Smoke Screen Project, they were determined to get the word out to their peers about why teenaged girls start smoking, and why they should resist. Through the Access to Media Education Society (AMES), the girls created 19 anti-smoking ads destined for prime-time television in BC and across Canada. A focus group of 450 more teens voted one of these, "Agent Tobacco," the most effective of the series. This same ad, however, became the subject of a long series of bureaucratic roadblocks and, on Monday April 19th, the CBC officially refused to air it.
"Agent Tobacco" is a 30-second animation created by BC teenagers Danica Reid, Kailey Carruthers and Veronica Milburn,.in which a young girl, running through city streets in fear, is backed into a corner and confronted by three dark figures. One shows her a badge that says "Agent Tobacco" and another shoots a cigarette into her mouth. The tag line states: "Agent Tobacco is Targeting You. Don't Get Hit." The tobacco agents in question are shadowy cartoon characters who bear no identifiable resemblance to any individual or Canadian company. [Watch "Agent Tobacco" at www.madebygirls.tv]
However, the CBC's Advertising Standards division has informed AMES that it will not air "Agent Tobacco" because the ad does not meet their "truth in advertising" standards. This decision was only reached a full two months after AMES submitted all the ads for review in mid-February, and more than halfway into the month in which the ad campaign bought and paid for by AMES (via funding from Health Canada) was supposed to take place. During this time AMES supplied the CBC with an ever-growing pile of documentation supporting the claims implied in the ad. Included was a 2002 Supreme Court ruling, which explicitly stated that the "tobacco companies are well aware that most people start smoking between the ages of 12 and 18 and systematically target this susceptible age group with their advertising and marketing." Nonetheless, in its final decision the CBC continued to assert that the evidence did not support the ad's implied claim that the tobacco industry targets young girls in its advertising.
"I can't help but feel that the CBC's decisions about what makes it to air are more influenced by corporate interests -- and by the fear of corporate legal action -- than they are by the interests of the public the CBC is mandated to serve," said AMES Executive Director Deblekha Guin in response to the CBC's verdict.
The Smokescreen Project was intended as an opportunity for girls to respond to the tobacco industry's teen-focused marketing juggernaut, by creating some powerful anti-smoking advertising of their own. The ads they developed were given a better-than-usual chance of actually reaching their target audience (other teenagers), thanks to funding from Health Canada, which paid for prime-time slots on seven different Canadian television networks throughout the month of April 2004. "By banning "Agent Tobacco" the CBC is effectively censoring the voices and creative expression of the three young girls who created the ad," says Ms. Guin. "More than that, it is denying all the girls who participated in The Smoke Screen Project their chance to have a voice in the media that plays such an important part in their lives. In the interest of promoting rather than stifling the perspectives of teenagers with a sense of civic responsibility, I believe the CBC should reverse its decision and start airing 'Agent Tobacco' today."
Publicist: Melanie Thompson, (604) 224-6201