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Australian Anti-Tobacco Zealots go to the Feds over Racy Ads

As you may have guessed, I’m not one to open up the newspaper and immediately go for the fashion section. This morning, though, a coworker of mine sent me a fashion-related article that caught my eye. According to an article in the Sydney Morning Herald, in Australia, many fashion images are being investigated for possible violations of the Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Act, which forbids any image that promotes or is intended to promote smoking.

According to the article, Fiona Sharkie, executive director of Quit Victoria, said that images used by the fashion brand Ellery and internet magazine Tangent could soon be investigated by the Department of Health and Ageing (sic). Sharkie argues that the images promote “aspirational products” with the use of a “product that kills up to half of users.”  I’m no puritan, but this kind of rationale makes me wonder, are fashion ads featuring half-naked, emaciated fashion models intended for the impressionable young consumers that the Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Act is trying to protect? I’d like to think not.

Graeme Lewsey, CEO of the Melbourne Fashion Festival, fired back somewhat over the controversy. “It can be part of the creative process,” he remarked, adding, “it’s not meant to promote a lifestyle choice, but there’s a very fine line.” Lewsey, along with Simon Lock, the event’s founder, set out several years ago to eliminate fashion images that glamorize smoking, but Lewsey still acknowledges that just because there’s a tobacco product in the image doesn’t mean it’s being promoted—sometimes it’s just simply being depicted.

“You have to be mindful, though, that we’re a platform of creative expression,” Lewsey told the Sydney Morning Herald. “A designer trying to create a mood, or an era when people smoked freely, might be part of that expression.”

The fact of the matter is, especially in fashion ads that are blatantly aimed towards adults, the Australian government (or any government, for that matter) has no business trying to shelter freethinking people from using a 100 percent legal product. If people like Fiona Sharkie were genuinely interested in protecting young consumers, they’d tell the fashion models to put some clothes on and eat a cheeseburger, because if there’s one thing fashion-conscious youths have enough of a problem with, it’s body image issues. But this isn’t about protecting young consumers—it’s about diluting culture to the point where it offends or bothers no one.

Taking tobacco products out of works of art, regardless of whether it’s your kind of art, sets a dangerous precedent for censorship. At this point, all we can do is hope that it doesn’t get much worse.