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ASA decision "inexplicable" says Forest

Wed 30th July, 2014

Forest 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 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investigation the ASA’s executive team recommended three times that Forest’s complaint be upheld and the advertisement withdrawn.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 This advertisement fell short of that and should be withdrawn.”

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