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Poster Advertising French Movie Breaks Anti-smoking Laws, Activist Says

Yau Chui-yan, SCMP – Jun 12, 2009

A movie poster that was banned in Paris because it contravened anti-smoking laws has stirred controversy for the same reason after being displayed in Hong Kong.

The poster, for the French movie Coco Before Chanel, depicts star Audrey Tautou in silk pyjamas with a cigarette in her hand.

A newspaper advert using the same image has been withdrawn in Hong Kong but the film’s local distributor is still deciding what to do about the posters, on display in MTR stations and theatres. The film, about the early life of fashion icon Coco Chanel, opened in the city yesterday and the posters and ads have been on display since last week.

The Smoking (Public Health) Ordinance prohibits tobacco ads in print, public places or on the internet. It states that an advert is a tobacco ad if it illustrates or mentions smoking or cigarettes.

The Department of Health said it was looking into the case. Anti-smoking activist Annelise Connell said it was clearly a breach of the law. “It is obviously a display of a tobacco product in an advertisement. They have already broken the law,” said Ms Connell of green group Clear the Air.

Lark Films Distribution, responsible for publicity for the movie in Hong Kong, said it did not realise there was a problem until the South China Morning Post raised it. “There might be something we have missed out, but we are now seeking advice from our legal department,” marketing manager Jennifer Hung said. “The film itself is not about smoking cigarettes.”

She said the company had decided to pull all ads showing Tautou smoking out of newspapers. “We will use other versions,” she said. “For posters showing in the MTR and theatres, we still need some more time to decide what to do.”

The MTR Corporation said the ad had been approved by JCDecaux Pearl & Dean, which runs its advertising concession. “All advertisements approved by our agency follow regulations and do not contravene Hong Kong law,” an MTR spokeswoman said.

Ms Hung said the poster showing Tautou holding a cigarette was the version originally used in France and its use in Hong Kong had been requested by the studio, Warner Bros France.

But Ms Connell said this was unacceptable. “This poster … promotes the use of cigarettes to young people because it glorifies cigarette use by a young and famous woman.”

In April, Metrobus, the company that runs advertising on Parisian trains and buses, banned the poster to avoid being prosecuted. The ad appeared in the Post but has been replaced by a different version.

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