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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 May 2007, 00:14 GMT 01:14 UK
Hooked smoking ads 'broke rules'
Smoking ad
Hundreds complained the image was frightening and distressing

Government posters and TV adverts showing smokers being pierced through the mouth with a fish hook broke industry rules, a watchdog has ruled.

The posters, TV commercials and press adverts, aimed at highlighting the dangers of being "hooked" on cigarettes, provoked 774 complaints.

The Advertising Standards Authority said the posters were likely to "frighten and distress children".

The Department of Health said the campaign had been "highly effective".

The adverts first appeared in the New Year in an attempt to shock smokers into quitting ahead of the bans on public smoking coming into force across the UK.

But the five-week campaign sparked hundreds of complaints from people who found the images offensive, frightening and distressing, particularly to children.

'Untargeted and realistic'

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said the posters showed the faces of addicted smokers who looked "distressed and in pain".

It found that although the posters were not displayed near schools, they could still be easily viewed by children.

The ASA argued they were "untargeted, and realistically and graphically showed the piercing of the cheek with a hook" and were "likely to frighten and distress children".

It also found the TV commercials breached advertising rules by being broadcast when older children could be watching.

However, complaints about the adverts on the internet, in magazines and in the press were not upheld by the watchdog.

The Department of Health said an anti-smoking helpline and website had been contacted more than 820,000 times during the Get Unhooked campaign.

The campaign was developed with health professionals and smokers and had not meant to cause distress, a spokesman said.

He added that he believed the adverts had achieved the right balance between raising awareness of the dangers of smoking and its addictive nature, with the need to do so responsibly and in line with industry codes.

The campaign generated the highest number of complaints received by the ASA since a KFC advert in June 2005 which featured people singing with their mouths full.

That notched up a record 1,671 complaints.

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