American-style attack ads that liken cigarettes to children's food treats spiked with shards of sharp glass are being promoted as an effective way to further reduce smoking in New Zealand.
Tobacco control expert Professor Stanton Glantz, of the University of California, San Francisco, says the virtual absence of such ads in New Zealand is a reason smoking prevalence is significantly higher in this country than in his home state - 17 per cent, compared with 12 per cent.
"There's good evidence denormalisation and making smoking socially unacceptable really works."
New Zealand's "Smoking, not our future" campaign has touched on questioning the industry's ethics, but focuses more on the undesirability of smoking.
Action on Smoking and Health director Ben Youdan urged the Government to invest in ads overtly attacking the industry to reduce the youth smoking rate.
He released the latest ASH youth smoking survey results to the Herald, which show the downward trend since 1999 stalled last year. Four per cent of year 10 students smoked daily, the 2012 survey found, unchanged from 2011.
Professor Glantz suggested the Government spend more to denormalise tobacco smoking and the industry, and less on quit-smoking therapies.
Shards o' Glass ice-blocks are a parody of cigarettes and the tobacco industry. An ice-block company chief tells the ad's viewers, "... we now agree there's no such thing as a safe glass freeze-pop. They are addictive and can cause serious health issues. In fact one-third of the people who enjoy our product will eventually die from shards-related ailments ... and remember, Shards o' Glass freeze pops are for adults only."
The "Truth" campaign ad ends with the text: "What if all companies sold products like tobacco."
In an early anti-industry ad funded by the California Government, a tobacco executive addresses colleagues in a smoky boardroom: "The tobacco industry has a very serious multibillion-dollar problem. We need more cigarette smokers. Pure and simple. Every day, 2000 Americans stop smoking and another 1110 also quit. Actually, technically they die."
Professor Glantz says of the ads, "They're such a jarring message for most people that they really get their attention and engage them in the issue.
"The way tobacco marketing works is people are affiliating with the company and the product. [The ads] make people not want to buy their product because they don't like them.
"People who don't like cigarette companies and think they should go out of business are much less likely to smoke and much more likely to have a quit attempt."
He said most people who quit smoking did it without the use of therapies, so if the likelihood of making a quit attempt could be increased by ads that denormalised smoking and the industry, "that's going to have a much bigger effect on quitting than what New Zealand is doing at the moment".
A United States study published in 2005 found that one-fifth of the decline in American youth smoking over a three-year period was due to the Truth campaign.
British American Tobacco said taxpayer money should not be spent on attacking a legitimate industry.
Associate Minister of Health Tariana Turia said: "While the results of the ASH Year 10 survey 2012 demonstrate a plateau in smoking prevalence it is pleasing to see that that there has not been an increase ...
"Other measures such as a social campaign in consideration with the other current measures of tobacco excise and plain packaging should be considered to continue the downward trend in smoking prevalence for year 10s."