Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Anti Cigarette Ads

I loathe these ads. These anti-smoking TV commercials produced by Thetruth.com. Oh the arrogance. Oh, the preachiness. There are several variations of them where anti-smoking crusaders with megaphones set up camp outside the swank offices of "big tobacco", and loudly chastise "big tobacco" with evidence of how many people are killed by cigarettes every year. Here are a few examples.


Now, call me crazy. Call me wacky. But aren't the smokers themselves 100% responsible for their own deaths? Not 95 or 98% responsible, but 100%, all-the-way responsible for any cigarette-related ailment that might come their way? Entirely, wholly and absolutely responsible?

No? Well then don't you have to show me an example of someone who was successfully bamboozled by "big tobacco" into thinking there was nothing wrong with cigarettes? Don't you have to show me a guy who says "Wait a minute, you're saying cigarettes are hazardous to my health?" Because I'm seriously doubtful that guy exists. Historically, sure. Maybe as recently as 40 years ago, there might have been one person left in American who hadn't gotten the news. The warning on the pack became mandatory in 1966. Our schools, our TV programming, our entire culture is saturated with the anti-smoking message. It's just not possible to grow up in this country and be ignorant of the fact that cigarettes are dangerous.

Having said that, if you want to continue to blame "big tobacco" for cigarette deaths, you have to do enormous logistical cartwheels. First, you have to absolve parents of any responsibility in monitoring their children. Then, you have to make a case that peer pressure so clouds a young person's judgment that they are literally forced into the irrational decision to start smoking. Then, you have to ascribe such addictive power to the cigarette that a person is entirely blameless in not being able to quit. And above all that, you have to weave a complex conspiracy theory about how cigarette companies are using the most artful and devious methods to hook new generations of young smokers, even though they are legally bound not to and would face staggering penalties if caught.

Where is this damning evidence of Big Tobacco's lies and deceit? Oh, the Truth has evidence. They have a great, damning, Tobacco executive quote from, wait for it... 1971.


19 friggin 71. Is that the best you can do, Truth? You got any quotes from 2005? 2006? We all know that the cigarette companies disseminated lies about smoking health's risks - dozens of years ago. Punitive damages ensued. Enormous settlements were paid. The cigarette companies don't lie anymore. They walk on eggshells. Don't you know that? Where's your more recent evidence of lying? Got any?

These commercials are an elaborate kabuki dance with one purpose and one purpose alone: to remove any kind of agency from the smoker himself. To absolve the smoker of all responsibility. It is this disrespect, ultimately, that angers me when I see these commercials. It's this worldview that holds that a human being is passive and powerless, and can just be swept along in the currents of whatever "big tobacco" wants you to think. It's a profoundly dark, uncharitable and contemptible view of humanity. It places (in this case) the anti-smoking megaphone-holding activist in a position of superiority over the poor smoking plebs. This is the same worldview that says the lottery is a tax on the poor, or, recently, that voters are disenfranchised if they have to show photo ID at the polling station. What a bunch of wretched, lobotomized fools you and I are assumed to be. Incapable of taking any responsibility for any action. In this worldview, business is saddled with all the moral agency, and individual people have none.

Let's say that the "Truth" commercials worked. Let's say that everyone at the big 4 or big 5 cigarette companies simultaneously looked in their bathroom mirrors at home and said "My God. What am I doing? What have I become?" - and they all quit. Let's say they were all driven to paroxysms of guilt by the Truth ads and they all closed up shop. How long do you think the average smoker would be inconvenienced by the shortage?

My guess is: they wouldn't be inconvenienced at all. Because smaller, independent, and foreign suppliers would smell opportunity and immediately step in to meet the demand. See, that's the thing about capitalism. If it costs 50 cents to get a pack of smokes to a consumer, and the consumer is willing to pay $4 for that pack, you better believe that consumer will be getting his packs. Where there's demand, there will be supply. You can't guilt-trip all the suppliers in the world into abstaining from making their profits. Eventually someone's going to say "I need to feed my family, I have a tobacco crop, and smokers know what they're getting into." And you know, he'd be right.

So maybe cigarettes should be banned? Maybe that's what "The Truth" should push for? Does "The Truth" want to ban smoking? ... No, of course they don't. Besides the fact that we have a little thing in this country called Freedom, it would be impossible to enforce. So, if the Truth doesn't want to ban the manufacture of cigarettes, and if they won't lay any blame at the smoker's feet, and if they know, deep down, that megaphone-wielding 21 year olds can't really bring the global production of cigarettes to a halt, then what, exactly, are they trying to do?

Maybe they're just a bunch of imbecilic, confused jackasses who just enjoy making preachy commercials? Yep, I think that's it. And hey, I don't smoke! Never have!


eric said...

great article.

i've always shared your sentiment and i'm glad to see someone else has the same mindset as i do.

Anonymous said...

You’re an idiot... lol. I started smoking at 10 years old. I’ve tried quitting, and have been unsuccessful. I am addicted. Some of these commercials (if you bothered to watch them) also talk of the companies aiming advertising at children (Joe camel, etc). I can’t tell you why I started at 10, but that kind of advertising couldn’t have helped. Also, no matter why people start, the point is that most find it difficult, if not impossible to quit. An addictive, deadly "product", with no benefits what so ever.. And you think it’s wrong to advertise against them?? Do you work for a cigarette company? Or are you just stupid???