The top five poster contractors are denying Death cigarettes access to any of their sites, leaving the brand's blunt 'smoking kills' message to go largely unheeded.
One advertisement tells passers-by: '13.5 million smokers will admit it's bad for them. Only one tobacco company will.' Another says: 'They're every bit as good as other cigarettes and every bit as bad.' Both feature the Death cigarettes pack, which carries a skull and cross bones.
Alex Ward, sales director of Maiden Outdoor Advertising, said: 'We turned it down on creative grounds. It does have that cult feel which appeals to young people and we have to be responsible to the public and councils that give planning permission for sites. It is a very sensitive time at the moment.'
Mills and Allen, Primesight, British Transport Advertising and More O'Ferrall say they have vetoed the campaign on similar grounds.
There have been suggestions in the industry that, anxious about the controversy the posters would attract in the prelude to parliamentary debate on a ban, the contractors succumbed to pressure from the main cigarette manufacturers - a charge flatly denied by Ms Ward.
The leading tobacco companies spend about pounds 60m a year on all advertising and sponsorship, with between pounds 15m and pounds 20m on posters.
Clive Turner, a spokesman for the Tobacco Manufacturers Association, which represents the leading concerns, including Gallaher and Imperial, said: '(Death cigarettes) have a niche market. They have seen an opportunity to make money. We're still living in a democratic society, just, and we cannot knock their freedom to operate in the sector.
'We're only concerned that this kind of approach can generate a 'forbidden fruit' syndrome with young people seeing it as terribly exciting to be seen floating round with a brand name like that.'
Kevin Barron, sponsor of the Bill to outlaw tobacco advertising, wrote to fellow MPs last week telling them that the Death campaign 'clearly informs consumers that cigarettes kill'.
Yesterday he accused poster companies of being hypocritical by censoring Death, while accepting Embassy Regal's 'Reg' campaign two years ago which, he said, attracted the attention of twice as many children as adults. However, Mr Barron added that the Death message 'challenged young people to smoke.' B J Cunningham, managing director of the Enlightened Tobacco Company, which markets the cigarettes and donates 10 per cent of pre-tax profits to non-vivisection cancer research and related charities, said: 'What does he want? To remove government health warnings as well? Smoking kills - end of story. We believe in the right to market and sell cigarettes and we believe we're doing it responsibly by warning people of the risks.'
As well as the statutory government health warning, a packet of Death cigarettes carries its own caution: 'Smoking is addictive and debilitating. If you don't smoke, don't start; if you smoke, quit.'
Mr Cunningham introduced Death cigarettes in 1991, borrowing the idea from the United States, where it became a cult among teenage Californians.
The first UK poster in January last year showed the chest X-ray of a cancerous lung alongside the line: 'The Shadow of Death'. Last month the company ended its use of comic inserts and advertising in fashion and style magazines after being criticised for pitching directly at teenagers.
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