Sunday 4 March 2012

I Wish To Register A Complaint

A comment on Tuesday's piece about the plain packaging hoardings being hoisted all over the South West has got me thinking this weekend. The edited exchange is below.
Jay: Gotta love how plain packs protect children, all zero of them.

DP: Funny you should say that. Isn't it against ASA guidelines to make false or unproven claims? Just a thought.

Jay: Well, yes, but ... evidently the government is exempt.
I have to say that I don't think that should be the case - though I do understand Jay's cynicism - so it might be time to test it.

As such, I've been reading through the ASA guidelines with specific reference to the sentence "Support plain packaging and protect our children at"

Now, let's leave aside, just for a minute, the fact that government agencies using taxpayers' cash to lobby government agencies is wrong. We know that it is. Smokefree South West is making a categorical statement here that plain packaging will definitely protect children. In fact, they are making a claim that just supporting the idea will do so.

Furthermore, they direct viewers to the website which makes no such claim. It merely states this.
Research and large scientific surveys from around the world indicate that plain packs are less appealing; make the health warnings more effective; and stop smokers believing that some cigarette brands are less harmful than others.
Nothing there says that children will be in any way 'protected'. It says that the packs will look ugly, which they will; it wrongly says health warnings will be more effective, they will just be more prominent; and it says current smokers will stop believing something which is true.

There is no evidence that a single child will be 'protected' from starting smoking because of plain packaging, quite simply because it doesn't exist. How can it exist when no studies are possible?

Here are the ASA's guidelines on such assertions.
3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so
Well, the whole plain packaging campaign is designed to mislead, that's its entire point, so there must be something in that.
3.3 Marketing communications must not mislead the consumer by omitting material information.
Omitting material information like there being no practical evidence must count, surely?
3.7 Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation.
The Smokefree tax-spongers would view their 'evidence' to be enough. I disagree, and I think others would too.

All the above would seem contraventions in my opinion, but this one looks the strongest.
3.13 Marketing communications must not suggest that their claims are universally accepted if a significant division of informed or scientific opinion exists.
It's quite clear that their claim of plain packaging 'protecting' children is not in any way universally accepted. For a start, the very existence of two sides debating the issue prior to the consultation is incontrovertible evidence of that. To starkly say that supporting the campaign is definitely going to protect children is plainly false.

So, here's the communication I've sent to the ASA.
Dear Sirs

I am writing to complain about misleading billboard advertisements being promoted by Smokefree South West with regard the upcoming government consultation on plain packaging of tobacco products.

The advertisements encourage viewers to "support plain packaging and protect our children at".

Section 3.13 of your code of conduct states that "Marketing communications must not suggest that their claims are universally accepted if a significant division of informed or scientific opinion exists".

It is clear that the idea of plain packaging being accepted as protecting children is part of a campaigning agenda and is hotly disputed.

The Adam Smith Institute recently released a report1 refuting all such claims, and an advocate of the policy was unable to provide any concrete evidence under examination from Victoria Derbyshire on Radio Five Live on Monday 20th February.

Even the website referenced offers no evidence that children would be protected from taking up smoking by plain packaging, they merely say that the packs would look less attractive to "smokers", which is true but in no way offers proper evidence that children would be less likely to smoke as a result.

In fact, the Department of Health have concluded that "the research evidence into this initiative is speculative", and that "Children may be encouraged to take up smoking if plain packages were introduced, as it could be seen as rebellious.".2

The European Union also recently said, in a consultation which included plain packaging of tobacco3, that "there cannot possibly be empirical evidence of the impact", so the assertion by Smokefree South West is manifestly false.

I'm also disturbed by the fact that taxpayer funds are being spent on this campaign, which should mean a very strict test of factual accuracy being applied, especially since any future policy decisions have wide-ranging implications.

Considering the above, I venture to suggest that the wording of these billboards is deliberately misleading, factually inaccurate, and that they should be withdrawn.

Yours faithfully
Richard Puddlecote

Well, that's my effort. Let's see if Jay is correct and we'll see a whitewash of a reply. Personally, I'm hoping for better.

I'm sure a few more individuals pointing out the disingenuity of Smokefree South West's ads will serve to make the ASA treat the matter seriously. Please feel free to use any of the info above, or just your own personal objections, to do the same.

It's very easy to make your complaint, your identity isn't passed to the advertiser, and you can do it online here. Supporting images of the ads are here and here.

Title, as if you needed telling, inspired by this


PatNurse said...

Excellent DP. Good luck. Let's hope the outcome is positive.

Jay said...

Awesome.  :)  Nice work.  I also hope that I'm wrong, but then again I'm a cynical bastard, so I know I'm going to be right in this instance.  How about a one-pound wager on that they whitewash this, Dick?  You've got my e-mail address. Correct?

Dick_Puddlecote said...

You'll receive the same outcome notification as me if you put your oar in too. ;)

Jenny Hunter said...

Good work and good luck.  This plain packaging business is so absolutely stupid and our anti-smoking masters are now clutching at straws.

handymanphil said...

Complaint duly sent DP-with extras ;)

Dick_Puddlecote said...

I believe so. I'd say you're on, but I should ask for odds from my side of the bet!

As founder of the feast, I take it you'll be submitting something? 

Dick_Puddlecote said...

Ta Phil. FP, pretty please? ;)

Angry Exile said...

Nice job, though I'm quite sure you will get fobbed off. The government and its friends are allowed to lie.

George Speller said...

They'll have to fob me off too - I sent:
The claims that "plain" packaging will somehow prevent children from starting to smoke, while perhaps pursuing an admirable aim, are groundless. There is no evidence to support this conjecture, and it is dishonest to imply that there is. Even the DoH admit that plain packaging has never been tried, and that any supporting "studies" relied entirely on hearsay and "focus groups". The use of the word "children" is also disingenuous as it is used by the advertisers to include teenagers and "young people" - who could be any age who would certainly resent being described as children. If we are to take seriously any further admonishments from health lobbies we must be sure that we can trust them to tell the truth. The sad fact is that "plain packaging" is intended to discomfort adults when buying tobacco products (DoH: "presents an opportunity to further ‘denormalise’ tobacco products and change the social acceptability of tobacco use"). This is not mentioned in the advert.

lleweton said...

Totally impressed by your unrelenting campaigning, Dick. I don't know how you find time and energy. I trust that soon, one of the myriad stones from your sling will finish off the puritan Goliath with a hit, right in the middle of the forehead.

Jay said...

 Odds are even, of course.  My favourite saying is "everything is 50 / 50."  Can't take credit for being the founder of the feast, but I am most pleased to have helped inspire you.  I will submit something, but not tonight, since the wife and I are working on our second bottle of wine and I suspect this may have affected my ability to be coherent.

I do wonder, however, if there are exceptions for "propaganda"  in advertising.  If so, we should be able to produce an ad that says, "Everybody dies of something. Have a smoke and enjoy your life!"

Jay said...

 Balls!  I suspect that the ad is will be considered "political."  See:

Which says that the ASA can't regulate it because:
Political advertising

All complaints of political bias in TV or radio advertising should be made to Ofcom ( 

For reasons of freedom of speech, we do not have a remit over
non-broadcast ads where the purpose of the ad is to persuade voters in a
local, national or international election or referendum. Please contact
the Electoral Commission.

handymanphil said...

 Jay > Lighten up folks-100% of non smokers die, just as 100% of smokers die-but smokers die happier! :)

SadButMadLad said...

Hope you do well. I've complained to the ASA a number of times and keep getting fobbed off. I don't know why because the ASA does seem to regularly accept a single complaint as grounds on which to ban an advert.

I'm thinking about complaining about the latest series of creme eggs adverts  as they are very offensive to anyone who has had to live through a suicide in their family.

moonrakin said...

Judging by previous "consultations" - these gits will be loading up the "postal vote" forms like some dodgy Birmingham councillor - or like Smoke Free Northwest or whatever they were called did about 18 months ago in some turgid self serving POS campaign. 

It's about time these conceited overpaid self aggrandizing abusers of public trust and funds got at least a stick through their spokes.

I think better than the ASA (been there - useless) is FoI. I'm in area and happy to place the FoI. They are clearly to my mind in breach of their professional standards as public employees. 

It's just a question of formulating the awkward questions....

But as a starter:

How much is the campaign costing?
EXACTLY what evidence are you using to substantiate your claims?
Who sanctioned it - yes who?
Who drafted the ad copy?

I think they are on thin ice professionally and I'd be entirely happy to let rip with a private prosecution for professional misconduct.

So c'mon  - a few inventive questions?

I am heartily fed up with these baccy billboard campaigns and want to put a stop to these municipal morons banking a salary on the back of this utter BS.

Michael J. McFadden said...

Very well done Dick, but I'd suggest one small change.  Where you end with: "
Considering the above, I venture to suggest that the wording of these billboards is deliberately misleading, factually inaccurate, and that they should be withdrawn."

I think it would read better as:

"Considering the above, I venture to suggest that the people responsible for the boards should be directed to remove them or paint over them with 24 hours notice and that failure to comply would result in one month of imprisonment at hard labor for each hour over the 24."

There, doesn't that sound better?


Lyn Ladds said...

For what it is worth, here is my contribution to the ASA.  Hope it is ok, as not in a good place myself just now, but can't let this pass me by.

The advert states that this measure WILL protect children.  There is absolutely no supportable evidence that this is the case.  In fact, quite the opposite as shown here:

Plain packaging will not reduce smoking ratesStudies have failed to show that having all legitimate cigarettes sold in plain packs will reduce overall tobacco consumption. This point has been acknowledged in various official documents in Australia, Canada and the UK. For instance, the UK Department of Health’s 2008 document describes the impact of plain packaging on total tobacco consumption as "speculative". In 1994, the Standing Committee on Health of the Canadian Parliament heard presentations on four studies cited in support of and against plain packaging, and found that these studies did not show evidence that plain packaging will reduce tobacco consumption:

Opening paragraph from

Which continues to state that in fact, it is more likely to make tobacco products MORE attractive to children due to price reductions and an easier road for black market products.

It is dispicable, in my opinion, that public funds should be abused in this way.

Angry Exile said...

DP? Off topic but have a goosey -

No mention of the smoking ban until the comments, natch. Instead a complaint that consumption in Leg-iron style smokie-drinkies is unrestrained and approval for Cameramong's latest assault on freedom because of "Hogarthian binge-drinking". Seems Christina Odone wants the pubs to stay open only because it makes nannying easier.

Dick_Puddlecote said...

I took that to mean 'party' political, Jay. This is advocacy which is a different thing, just like say, a WWF campaign ad which is required to be accurate and not misleading. 

Dick_Puddlecote said...

I think your questions are ideal, moonrakin. Fire away. :)

handymanphil said...

 1951 = 71% smoking rate in parts of England, 2011 = 25% smoking rate so what part has pretty coloured packing played?

handymanphil said...

Response just landed:
Thank you for submitting your complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority.
We will assess your complaint and reply in full as soon as possible."Get-out word being ASSESS!

Lyn Ladds said...

If that was meant to be a link, Moonrakin, it doesn't work, sadly.

moonrakin said... 

Odd - 'twas perfectly formed.

Dick_Puddlecote said...

Good letter, George. :)

Dick_Puddlecote said...

Ta for the support, SBML. 

Dick_Puddlecote said...

Another good letter, nice one Lyn. :)

Dick_Puddlecote said...

Nothing in my mailbox yet. Bloody favouritism! ;)

Lyn Ladds said...

Thanks DP, got the same bog standard response that handymanphil got.

Lyn Ladds said...

Tried the link again, moonrakin, and this was the response:

Page not found
Sorry, the page you were looking for in the blog Dick Puddlecote does not exist.

Lyn Ladds said...

Am I missing something?

Dick_Puddlecote said...

Yeah, using the < a href > tag doesn't seem to work in Disqus as it auto links from the URL. Here's the article.

Dick_Puddlecote said...

Looks like I might be having to ask you two what the outcome is then. Still nothing here. :-0

Bill Sticker said...

Link works fine for me.  Welcome to the Dark side, young Tel

Jay said...

 Yeah, I think you may be right. I hope so.  I sent my complaint in today.  I'm tempted to write to MPs, but which?

Dick_Puddlecote said...

Your own one is best as others avoid responses by saying you're not local and directing you elsewhere. 

Bill Sticker said...

It's the "protect our children" thing that makes me laugh.  Whose children?  Yours?  Mine?  Mine don't smoke, and neither do I.  Yet if a line is not drawn somewhere, everything goes down the toilet; freedom of movement, free speech (Well, not so much nowadays), the lot.

Then we'll be back (although it never really went away) to private law for the privileged and summary punishments for 'looking at me in a funny way', or 'not doing exactly what you're told - right now'.

Jay said...

 This reply box is getting smaller and smaller.  Anyway, I got a response from the beloved blog mascot, who thanked me for bringing it to his attention, and that if I want it actioned in my name, I need to send it to my MP.  Fair enough, but I don't need it actioned in my name. I just need it actioned.  Still, I've never written to an MP before, and I certainly didn't expect a reply. I even said as much. 

Lyn Ladds said...

Got a response from the ASA yesterday, as you probably did too; much as expected, I suppose.

Advertising Standards Authority Complaint Reference: A12-189986 (Smokefree South West) Dear Mrs Ladds Thank you for contacting the Advertising Standards Authority about a poster for Smokefree South West.  The ad appeared as a text box against a drab background and stated: "MOVE ON. THERE'S NOTHING TO SEE. Make cigarette packets less noticeable. Support plain packaging and protect our children at" It also featured a picture of a cigarette pack with the web address on it.  In total, eight complainants objected to the ad.  All challenged whether the claim "Make cigarette packets less noticeable. Support plain packaging and protect our children" was misleading.  Four objected that the claim, "Support plain packaging and protect our children" was not universally accepted, and there was a division of opinion on the matter.  Four objected that there was no evidence that children would be protected from the ill-effects of smoking if cigarettes were sold in plain packaging.  Some complainants also raised concerns about claims on the advertiser’s website.  However because they were not directly connected with the supply or transfer of goods, services, opportunities and gifts or soliciting donations they did not fall within the remit of the CAP Code and were not assess by the ASA Council.   Smokefree South West is an organisation, funded by all 14 Primary Care Trusts in that region, with the aim of reducing smoking rates. Advocacy for plain packaging was one of a range of Smokefree South West programmes and campaigns designed to reduce tobacco use. In this context the poster was advocacy of an opinion in an ongoing public-health debate. It was not implying that this opinion was universally accepted or that there were no contrary opinions, and was unlikely to be interpreted that way. The poster was unlikely to mislead consumers about Smokefree South West's advocacy of plain packaging for cigarettes.  On this basis they concluded there was no breach of the CAP Code rules.   I realise that will disappoint you and, although we won’t be taking any other action, we’ve told the advertiser about your concerns (without revealing your identity).  In certain circumstances, complainants can request a review of the ASA Council’s adjudication, including a Council decision not to investigate a complaint after its deliberation.  You have 21 days to ask the Independent Reviewer of ASA Adjudications, Sir Hayden Phillips, to review the case. But they must be able to establish that a substantial flaw of process or adjudication is apparent, or show that additional relevant evidence is available.  You can click here for further information about the Independent Review process. Our website,, contains information about the ASA and the work we do, including the results of investigations into other complaints, many of which have been upheld.   Kind regards Taylor MeanwellComplaints ExecutiveDirect line 020 7492 2116 Advertising Standards AuthorityMid City Place, 71 High HolbornLondon WC1V 6QTTelephone 020 7492