Dear France, Smoking and Sexual Abuse are NOT Comparable. Thank you.

by Jamie Doak

In an effort to cut down on teenage smoking in France, an organization called Droits des Non-fumeurs (Non-smokers Rights) is launching a new ad campaign targeting young people.  The tagline: “To smoke is to be a slave to tobacco.”  Innocent enough- it even makes sense.  But apparently the only images they could think of to pair with the slogan are these ridiculously offensive images of young boys and girls sucking on the cigarette dicks of creepy older men.  He’s pushing her head down, she’s looking up in submission.  Get it? Because she’s his sex slave like the youth of France are the sex slaves of tobacco.  It’s like a really pornographic analogy!  Right? Uh….. 

Seriously, these ads are problematic on so many different levels:

1.  Trivialization of sexual assault.  I get that the point of the campaign is to show that smoking isn’t some right-of-passage to adulthood.  It’s trying to show young people that smoking is simply another childish way to conform.  The VP of the advertising firm that created the ads said: “Young people think they’re invincible.  They like to flirt with danger” and the ads were trying to show that smoking is “an act of naivete and submission.” 

And of course, if you want to demonstrate naivete and submission, you’re going to depict a young girl being forced to go down on a middle-aged pedophile.  This is not acceptable.  Smoking is bad for you but smoking is a choice.  Because sexual abuse is not a choice it isn’t on the same level and any comparison between the two is inexcusable.

2. It blames the victim.  The ads are telling teenagers that if you choose to start smoking you are choosing to become a “slave to tobacco” and thus, choosing to submit to its influence.  Someone who is forced to perform oral sex did not choose to be in that submissive role and by juxtaposing these ideas the ads are insinuating that the victims are partly to blame for their abuse. 

3. Imagination deficit.  I think Florence Montreynaud, the president of La Meute des Chiennes de Garde (Pack of Female Watchdogs) said it best: “It is terrible to represent in the public space this kind of image restricted to pornography.  I’m appalled.  It’s a poverty of imagination.  When people have no ideas, they use female bodies.”  While I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with celebrating women’s bodies in the media (provided it’s in the right context, women friendly, etc.),  I do have a problem with violence and sexual violence against women in the media.  Wanting to shock people out of apathy is not an excuse for exploiting survivors of sexual abuse.  Period. 

Article from the NYT, Photo from ABC


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