S Korean tobacco firm pulls 'racist' ads

South Korean tobacco firm KT&G is under fire for using monkeys in the packaging and promotion of its new cigarette brand, This Africa. (AFP)

South Korean tobacco firm KT&G is under fire for using monkeys in the packaging and promotion of its new cigarette brand, This Africa. (AFP)

South Korea's top tobacco firm said on Wednesday it would pull the ads for its new This Africa brand of cigarettes after complaints that the use of images of apes dressed as humans was racist.

KT&G launched the brand about a month ago, with a promotional hook that the cigarettes used tobacco that was roasted and dried in a "traditional" African style.

The packet carries a graphic of two monkeys roasting tobacco leaves over an open fire.

Advertising panels and posters for the product – displayed at convenience stores nationwide – feature chimpanzees dressed as a news anchor and a news reporter, announcing the slogan "Africa is coming!"

The African Tobacco Control Alliance (ATCA) called recently for the posters to be withdrawn.

"We are deeply offended by KT&G's shameless and insulting use of this mocking imagery," the ATCA said.

"Mocking Africa to sell a product that causes death and disease is unacceptable."

Participants criticised the adverts on a number of South Korean online forums.

"They basically turned cigarette-making Africans into cigarette-making monkeys ... isn't this racism?" wrote one commentator.

KT&G called the controversy "regrettable" and said it would pull the ads this month to "dispel concerns of racism".

"We absolutely had no intention to offend anyone and only chose monkeys because they are delightful animals that remind people of Africa," the company spokesperson said.

"Since this product contains leaves produced in the traditional African style, we only tried to adopt images that symbolise the nature of Africa," she said.

The firm does not view the image on the pack as offensive and is not planning to change it. – AFP

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