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The Cigarette is dead, and the ads are illegal

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The nifty ads are hard not to notice, boldly proclaiming: The Cigarette is Dead. They've popped up alongside buildings, buses and billboards, directing people to www.QuitDoingIt.com, where smokers can find tools to help them quit.

Commissioned by the State Tobacco Education & Prevention Partnership (STEPP), a division of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and created by the Cactus ad agency, the messages have also appeared on the ground, stenciled in chalk in LoDo and on the Auraria and University of Denver campuses. Written simply, they include a long, coffin-like nail in place of the letters T and I.

"This tactic is particularly effective for many brands as it is an environmentally friendly (no paper, vinyl production needed) way to reach young, urban, mobile target audiences with a fresh, artistic, unexpected message that will resonate with them," says Cactus PR director, Ashley Boyden, in an email.

"The campaign is designed to come across as a grassroots, underground movement, and sidewalk chalk is an appropriate way to accomplish that," she adds.

Well intentioned? Yes. Appropriate? Maybe. But how did this guerilla marketing campaign get permission to advertise on the sidewalks? Turns out they didn't.

"Since 'The Cigarette is Dead' campaign used Denver sidewalks as a venue for their advertising without permission from the City of Denver, we will contact them to let them know that they are responsible for the clean up of the sidewalk chalk," says Denver Public Works department spokeswoman Christine Downs in an email.

"Using public sidewalks as a means to advertise a program or a product is illegal in Denver...if any entity at any time could stencil an advertisement for any program or product on any sidewalk, you could end up with an ad on the sidewalk in front of your residence or your business, and you would have no say in the matter. That doesn't make much sense to us," she continues

"If they comply with the clean up, there will be no fine. However, the fine for such an action could be a maximum of $999 or a year in jail. In view of the fact that this is sidewalk chalk, which is easily removed, it is not considered property damage."

Of course, recent snow and ice may have the done the job for Cactus. But perhaps the firm should have learned from a 2004 stencil fiasco in San Francisco when crews spent more than $3,000 removing 63 stencils teasing the TV show "4400."

There's a lot of money aimed at snuffing out cigarettes, including funds from the 2004, Colorado-voter approved Amendment 35, which designates a tobacco tax for public health programs, and the annual $27.5 million a year from both state and federal funds for tobacco prevention and cessation.

In addition to providing funding, Amendment 35 created a review committee, charged with providing oversight of STEPP to ensure tax dollars are being spent appropriately and efficiently. And according to the Centers for Disease Control, Colorado is among the top ten states using that money wisely.

If slightly illegally. Though that should change.

"To the best of our knowledge, they've been removed or washed away and will not be used in the future," Boyden says of the chalk. -- Elena Brown

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