We won our appeal: cigarettes can save lives!

Many of you may have seen our amazing TV advert last year: The Cigarette that Saved Lives

If you haven’t already seen it, watch it here now!

Filming the advert on set

Filming the advert on set

What many of you didn’t know, is that whilst we received an overwhelmingly positive response to this incredibly clever and functional crime scene awareness message, there was one viewer who considered the advert ‘racist’ and raised an objection to the Advertising Standards Authority of SA (ASASA).

The ASASA are compelled to make a ruling on the appropriateness of an advert even where one complaint has been received and thus the first round of submissions began in May 2012. The DNA Project successfully defended their case in the first round of proceedings and a ruling was made by the ASASA that the storyline of the advert had a critical message to convey and was therefore relevant – not the colour of either of the actors’ skin. Furthermore it found that the advert was not intended to be racist nor offensive, and therefore cannot be ruled as racist.

Despite having successfully defended our advert against the complainant, the objector chose to appeal this finding and so we were forced to respond yet again, the outcome of which would be final. It was out with the boxing gloves again and a full response was presented to the ASASA Board in August last year. Today, we are happy to report that we have received the final ruling from that last appeal and that is, that our TV advert is not offensive nor racist and the complainants objections against our advert have all been dismissed.

Shooting the advert

Shooting the advert

This represents an important victory for us, as it became a matter of principle: the TV advert has long finished its run on TV and therefore on a practical level, the finding is less relevant. However, we have created an important precedent and more importantly showed that the motivation behind this advert and the message it was sending to the audience, was in fact not only highly relevant, but achieved, namely, “Never disturb a crime, DNA evidence can convict”. The actors who were depicted in the advert were completely incidental to that fact. Thank you to ASASA for recognising that important point and allowing us to continue to disseminate our crime scene awareness message that could possibly save a future life.

Some background on the making of the The Cigarette that Saved Lives

In support of the work we do, Change a Life Trust, FOXP2 and the Cape Town media industry rallied together last year to fund and create the advert entitled “The Cigarette that saved Lives”. Paradoxically, the value of the DNA evidence left on the butt of a cigarette may be the one piece of evidence that links the perpetrator to the crime — and if that link is made and the perpetrator caught and convicted, that person will effectively be taken off the streets, preventing that criminal from committing future crimes and therefore saving future lives which may have been lost had the perpetrator not been caught.

This is not a far-fetched concept: On the 7 November 2012 the DNA of a man accused of murdering a Pretoria North woman was found at the crime scene. Forensic expert Major Shamil Govan testified that Sipho Masiqa’s DNA was found on a cigarette butt at the murder scene.

“The chance of someone else having this DNA is one in 6.8 trillion people,” he told the court, adding that the world’s population was about seven billion.“We expect to see this DNA profile again if there were 1 000 earths. The DNA is the same in all areas. It is a match.”

Had that cigarette butt not been found, the accused would still be on the streets, possibly committing further murders? This is how in this case, the cigarette used to convict the accused, is saving future lives from being lost.

The point of the advert is to show that the perpetrator is leaving behind a trail of evidence and that this trail of evidence represents the vital clues, which in reality can be followed to catch these criminals and this fact is cleverly highlighted in the advert. The end message is strong and powerful: DNA can convict. Never disturb a crime scene: in disturbing crime scenes, so much valuable DNA and other forensic evidence is lost in SA, and this is why we are educating people to assist in protecting and preserving crime scenes.

Vanessa Lynch

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