The series of English-language slogans urging smokers “Don't be a Maybe – be Marlboro” were described by the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper as one of the most catchy recent cigarette advert campaigns.
Slogans such as “Maybe never fell in love” and “Maybe never feels free”, may have left some German speakers puzzled, but as the newspaper points out, the idea of “Maybe” being or not being something is difficult to translate.
But the campaign, which matched the slogans with images of young people having fun or kissing in a disco, upset authorities in Munich who felt they were aimed at young people – which is specifically barred for tobacco firms.
Munich city authorities wrote to Philip Morris to set out the concerns, prompting the tobacco firm to cancel the campaign – though they denied any wrongdoing.
“We are convinced that the Marlboro poster campaign meets the relevant laws,” a spokeswoman said on Thursday.
“But we have decided to stop the Marlboro Maybe posters, while we examine the complaints and continue our discussions with the authorities.”
Johannes Spatz, spokesman of the Rauchfrei anti-smoking group, said he was pleased with the decision. “This is a breakthrough,” he said, suggesting it was the first time that authorities had moved against such a tobacco advertising campaign.
He said he hoped this could mark the start of a change in attitudes to tobacco advertising, which is still much more prevalent in Germany than many other European countries.
A report from the Germany Cancer Research Centre this May called for an immediate ban on all cigarette advertising.
“The practice of cigarette advertising in this country is irresponsible,” said Otmar Wiestler, head of the centre.
“Cigarettes are fundamentally different from any other legally sold product, because they are toxic and pose the largest avoidable cancer risk. The fact that they are extremely hazardous to health is enough reason for them to have a special status.
“Therefore they should also be given special status by a comprehensive advertising ban, which does not exist for any other consumer product.”