Like many other European Union countries, Italy is facing a dramatic demographic change, with increasingly fewer children being born. So the Health Ministry recently launched an ad campaign to remind people of Sept. 22 being “fertility day.”

“Beauty has no age limit. Fertility does,” read one of the campaign’s posters, which showed a woman holding an hourglass.

A poster that addressed potential fathers depicted a man with a half-burned cigarette and the caption: “Don’t let your sperm go up in smoke.”

Commentators on social media were not impressed. Many Italians were also left confused by another ad claiming that fertility was “a common good” – a comparison that reminded some of fascist propaganda from the 1920s that urged women to have more babies to support the nation.

The ministry campaign was recalled over the weekend, but it continues to spark outrage.

“So embarrassed to live here,” one user wrote.

“The fertility day campaign is offensive, sexist and dangerous. I’m ashamed and embarrassed,” another commented.

As a social welfare state, Italy’s pensions system and economy relies on a certain number of younger people joining the workforce every year.

Other nations, such as Germany, have tried to counter declining birthrates by attracting more immigrants. But Italy’s youth unemployment rate stands at about 35 percent.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi was equally unimpressed by the efforts of his Health Ministry.

“If you want to create a society that invests in its future and has children, you have to make sure the underlying conditions are there,” he was quoted as saying by the BBC.

Critics of the government have blamed lower wages for women and insufficient day care for the low birthrates.

With a fertility rate of 1.35 children per woman, Italy is even below the European Union average of 1.6.

In Sweden, the government provides financial incentives for having babies. For a total of 480 days, either a father or mother of a newborn child is entitled to receive 80 percent of their previous salary.

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