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Anti-plain packaging ads ruled OK

Thursday 15 Nov 2012 11:24 a.m.

Screenshot from one of the adverts

Screenshot from one of the adverts

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By Dan Satherley

Two complaints over a series of television advertisements paid for by British American Tobacco New Zealand (BATNZ) have been thrown out.

In the adverts, a voice says the company agrees that smoking is harmful, but that "plain packaging" is a breach of intellectual property rights.  

The Government is considering plain packaging in its effort to stamp out tobacco by 2025. In April, Cabinet agreed in principle to follow Australia's lead in introducing plain packaging.

In response, BATNZ launched a series of adverts called "Agree/Disagree", in which viewers are urged to go to a website which contains information on the company's position.

Complainant J Kelso objected to the adverts because they were "completely biased".

"Their webpage does not allow for any feedback from their advertisement," says Kelso. "Thus it is misleading and therefore illegal. I find the advertisement offensive and am traumatised every time I see it."

The complainant said BATNZ was using "underhanded and unbalanced tactics" to change people's opinion on the issue.

The Advertising Standards Authority however said advertising rules included a provision for "advocacy advertising", which it described as "an essential and desirable part of the functioning of a democratic society".

The ASA said the adverts did not have any positive references to smoking, fact and opinion were "clearly distinguishable" and the viewer was "mistaken about the nature of the agree-disagree website".

Another complaint centred on BATNZ's claim that Australia's plain packaging law was "untested".

"This is a misleading (and perhaps false) statement because the law has in fact been tested by Australia’s highest court and found to be constitutionally valid," said complainant C Robertson.

The ASA said the viewer was mistaken in their interpretation of the commercial.

"While the plain packaging legislation in Australia has been found to be constitutionally valid, what the general manager for the advertiser claims is 'untested' is the effect plain packaging has on reducing the number of people who smoke," ruled the ASA.

Both complaints were dismissed by the ASA as having no grounds on which to proceed.

Last month the Ministry of Health also dismissed complaints over the adverts.

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