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May Wilkerson May Wilkerson

Video: “Truth” Ad Shaming Celebrity Smokers Is Not Cool

The "Truth" campaign's latest video uses paparazzi photos of celebrities smoking and blames them for publicizing Big Tobacco. But who's the a-hole here?

3 Substance

American Legacy Foundation made history with their shocking and highly-effective “Truth” anti-tobacco campaign in the early 2000′s, which showed teens dumping body bags at the doorstep of tobacco companies. And the group has now launched a new campaign dubbed “Finish It” in what is intended to be their final take-down of Big Tobacco (they optimistically plan to stamp out smoking entirely in the next generation).

Sounds good in theory. But the campaign’s most recent ad (below) takes things too far. The ad, directed towards teens, ran during the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards and features paparazzi shots of celebrities—like Orlando Bloom, Rihanna, Chris Brown, Kristen Stewart, and others—with cigarettes in their mouths, and the words “UNPAID TOBACCO SPOKESPERSON” flashing across the screen. “They’re the new face of Big Tobacco,” says the ad. “And they don’t even know it.”

Sure, young people (and older people) are known to imitate celebrities’ behavior. But it’s a low blow to blame them for tobacco companies’ policies, when they’re just as susceptible to addiction as the rest of us. Plus, cigarettes are legal, and it’s not anyone’s business what people choose to do with their mouths and lungs—famous or not.

(The group later posted a “response” video, in which they say they may have “pissed off” the lawyers of the celebrities by showing photos of their clients smoking. Ad #2 then flashes the smoking celebs’ photos again, explaining, “We’re fans!” It’s hardly an apology.)

American Legacy Foundation should probably go back to what its good at: Publicly shaming companies rather than people.