Oliviero Toscani, fired as advertising director of fashion retailer Benetton two years ago after pushing his luck with a series of notorious ads, told the World Health Organisation conference in Geneva on Thursday that “the Nazis were amateurs” compared with today’s tobacco companies.

In his address to delegates from over 180 member-nations, Toscani demanded a global ban on tobacco advertising, backing his presentation with incendiary visuals that typified his output for Benetton.

He accused tobacco manufacturers, of “running modern-day concentration camps” justifying the charge with the rationale that “being a smoker is like being in a concentration camp”.

“Smoking,” he continued, “is an expression of slavery and like all slaves, smokers want to be free. The only difference between these concentration camps and [those of] World War II is that these ones can advertise. Compared to what tobacco companies are doing now, the Nazis were amateurs.”

Toscani addressed his audience beneath a giant Smoker's Body Profile poster, previously aired in Benetton's Colors magazine. This displays the body of a smoker and the various diseases from cancer to halitosis that result from smoking. It will be used in future WHO anti-tobacco campaigns.

Volunteering his services to the WHO to create an anti-tobacco campaign, Toscani said: “We need to revise smoking’s fashionable, glamorous image. Smoking is not glamorous.”

His wildly provocative campaigns help establish Benetton on the global fashion map. Invoking images that included an Aids victim at the moment of death and the bloodstained clothes of a dead Bosnian Soldier, Toscani’s luck finally ran out with his ‘Death Row’ campaign featuring criminals condemned to die under the United States penal code.

The latter was a bridge too far – not only with those who believe that advertising should adhere to accepted standards of public taste – but also with US retail giants sensitive to what they perceived as European criticism of America’s capital punishment policy.

Data sourced from: AdAgeGlobal.com; additional content by WARC staff