Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Can righteous indignation prevent smoking?

I like the series of anti-smoking campaigns put out by TheTruth.com. They're the people who did that series of sitcom parodies in which tobacco executives would pitch utterly insane ideas to market tobacco which turned out to all be culled from actually tobacco industry documents. They just started a new commercial in which someone asks a doctor if he has Zephyr, which is revealed to be the code word for cancer used in Tobacco industry documents.

These ads are intriguing, but I always think it's a rather odd approach to getting people to stop smoking. Because many of the ads don't actually tell you cigarettes are bad for you, and when they do it's often in a somewhat indirect way. In the case of the Zephyr ad, the fact that smoking causes cancer is sort of mentioned in passing, but the real goal of the ad, as with many truth.com ads, is to point out that Tobacco companies are sleazy.

I keep wondering what the rational is behind such ads. Would teens stop smoking cigarettes because tobacco companies are sleazy? I mean, if I learned chocolate chip cookie manufacturers had internal documents talking about campaigns to present cookies as healthful and non-fattening it wouldn't actually stop me from eating cookies.

Maybe this approach does work. I hear the tobacco industry, which was forced by a legal ruling to fund these ads, is claiming the American Legacy Foundation, which is behind theTruth.com, is in breach of that agreement which stipulates that the ads cannot "vilify" tobacco companies. Since the ads do almost nothing but that it's amazing TheTruth.com wasn't shut down long ago.

Personally, I think what's going to kill smoking is just the difficulty of finding a place to smoke. I love the fact that people can't smoke in restaurants in New York (it's one reason I kind of like Mayor Bloomberg), and I can't wait until the city stops people from smoking in parks as has apparently happened in a lot of towns in California. Of course, once no one can smoke in public I won't care if people smoke or not (in the same way I don't care if people shoot heroin), except for my friends, who I would prefer not smoke so they don't die.

UPDATE: Years later, I read an article in the Times that says this: 'But educating people about the tobacco industry’s marketing efforts can have a big impact. “We now have empirical evidence that people who don’t like the tobacco industry are about five times as likely to quit, and a third to a fifth as likely to start.”'

So it turns out that yes, righteous indignation can stop people from smoking. Go figure.

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