Mark Lawson has written an interesting article at The Guardian in which he discusses some recent examples of photos being ditched from promotional material because they show a celebrity smoking.
A quiz question: what is the link between ex-President Jacques Chirac, the composer Rachmaninov and interviewer Lynn Barber? If this were a picture round, you'd get it immediately, from the little angled strip of white on their hand. The answer is that attempts have been made to ban photographs of them on the grounds that they were shown smoking.
The publication of Chirac's latest volume of memoirs has mysteriously been delayed, allegedly because of concerns over a dustjacket image which shows him having a puff. This matches the experience of Barber – who withdrew from the Richmond Literature Festival when objections were raised to the inclusion in the brochure of a publicity shot in which she palms a gasper – and, posthumously, of the Russian composer. When the pianist Stephen Hough chose to illustrate a recording with a snap of Rach toting an elegant cigarette holder at the keyboard, his US distributor asked for this dissonant health and safety note to be taken out.
It should be said that these were all decisions taken by private companies. I am not aware of any anti-smoking groups calling for photos of celebrities who smoke to be banned (let me know if I am wrong). They are, however, calling for smoking to be banned in films, and so this could be seen as just another "logical step" in the "denormalisation" of smoking.
The argument of the censorious forces in the above cases is that the shocking ciggy pics might encourage those seeing them to light up at home or outside the office door; could, in the terrible official lingo, "normalise" the activity.
Which just serves to highlight the central problem with the denormalisation programme. As much as those in Tobacco Control would like it otherwise, there are well over a billion smokers on the planet. Presenting a picture of the world that doesn't include them requires, by necessity, a certain degree of deceit.
And once photos of smokers have been banished, the next logical step - surely - is to banish the sight of smokers themselves. That, incredibly, was the argument used this week to justify an outdoor smoking ban by New York City Health Commissioner Dr Thomas Farley:
"We don't think children should have to watch someone smoking."
Dr Michael Siegel has more on the New York story, and Mark Lawson's article is well worth reading.