Monday, 13 October 2014

Sucked In!

When I was in the middle of my teaching career and the phrase "sucked in" came into vogue I found it quite distasteful. As a consequence I have rarely used it, but on this occasion I find it rather appropriate. After our recent trip to France, and seeing stuff in the media of late about the so-called "e-cigarette" phenomenon, I've become a bit preoccupied with the topic. 

Although Dianne and I have developed a real love affair with France since our retirement, the one thing that bugs us about the place is the smoking. It's fine when we're running about in the mountains, but once we get back into "civilisation" there seems to be an awful lot of people puffing away. According to this article, more people were smoking in France in 2012 than five years earlier when bans on smoking in workplaces, schools, hospitals and stations were enacted. In France in 2012, about 30% of the adult population smoked regularly. In contrast, according to this article from the Health Department here in Australia the figure is now well under half that. 

In Australia it's not legal to smoke in any outdoor areas where food is served. By contrast, everywhere we wanted to eat outside in France we had to put up with passive smoking from fellow diners.

Marketing and Popular Culture

How could smoking have ever become such a powerful and widespread addiction throughout humanity? Well, maybe we can blame it on Freud. Or, more accurately, we should probably blame his nephew Edward L Bernays who applied psychoanalytic principles to advertising. Bernays was intrigued by Freud's notion that irrational forces drive human behaviour and launched a marketing campaign to convince women to take up smoking back on the brink of the Great Depression of the 1930's. 

Was this image influential in reeling in early smokers?

Actually, we should probably take a big step back in time, as far as the 16th - indeed the 15th century. Sir Walter Raleigh is widely blamed for introducing tobacco to Britain. Even the BBC mentions him in this context, although it does acknowledge that the Spanish had already brought tobacco to Europe, with Christopher Columbus the main culprit. However, it seems that a Frenchman, Jean Nicot - for whom nicotine is named - was one of the main figures in popularising its use in Europe in the  mid sixteenth century. This brief history of tobacco is full of interesting information, including the fact that the tobacco industry was a major factor in stimulating the demand for slave labour in North America. So, while countless millions across the world can be described as slaves to smoking through their addiction to nicotine, the tobacco industry can also be blamed for the scourge of slavery in America. And, although it took some 400 years for western governments to really crack on to the connection between smoking and lung cancer, concerns were being raised in the early 1600's by no lesser a figure than King James the 1st. 

Of course, marketing played a big part in the addiction of so many to such an appalling habit. Here's an image of Ronald Reagan - before he became the 40th president of the USA - promoting cigarettes ...

They almost look like cartons of shortbread cookies ...
No doubt this advertisement made the Christmas shopping easy for a lot of folks that year!

Of course for the sake of women's equality, female movie stars got a guernsey as well ...

Barbara Stanwick shares her smoking preference

Perhaps the most famous - and subsequently infamous - of all smoking advertisements were those made to sell Marlboro cigarettes. Most of the advertising projected images of the rugged, independent, outdoor man, they must have sucked in lots of young boys especially. Here's an example ...

You too can be a cowboy if you smoke Marlboro
The more you look into the history of cigarette advertising the more appalling it is. From portraying health professionals promoting smoking ...

Because it's good for your gums or teeth or ... what exactly?
... to using images of babies ...  

Do it for me, Mum!

 .. there was no depths that big tobacco wouldn't plumb to make money at the expense of the public and one can only pity the appalling blitz that was carried out on my parents' generation, even to the extent of supplying free or very cheap cigarettes at one stage if you were in the military forces.

Eventually of course, things started to turn against this foul trade, and advertising played its part in this respect too. The Heart Association made this spaghetti western animated antismoking cartoon in the late 1960's ...

Move the time-line slider along a little way and we've got this wonderful short anti-smoking ad from no less than John Cleese ...

A postscript to this anti smoking-lobby ramble: this morning (21st October) I found this lovely little article on The Mercury's website. It's about Rik Goddard, an ABC radio announcer who has given up smoking after three decades of hard core sucking and has found a new lease on life. Worth a read.

How Vapid Can One Be?

I've always been kind of out of the loop as far as popular culture goes. In terms of smoking, I never really got it - although I did try briefly in my mid teens to join the smokers. Luckily, I never took to it or, maybe more accurately, it never took hold of me. In fact I've often found it rather ironic that so many people think they're rebelling against some dominant paradigm by smoking when they're merely being manipulated by mega-multinational companies.

I've just recently I've become aware of the "e-cigarette" phenomenon. Probably at least a couple of years after everybody else. (I find the term "e-cigarette" a bit of a laugh in itself. Yet another marketing gimmick, designed to make the habit look modern and sophisticated by linking to modern electronic technology with all its associated "e" terms.) It almost seems like some underground cult thing that's taking hold. There's countless threads on the internet about it, including this one purporting to protect the so-called rights of ex-smokers. And of course, it has spawned a whole lot of vapid terms, including vaping, which is carried out by vapers. There's even an e-cig glossary for those who want to "successfully switch to vaping".

Naturally, this phenomenon is all just about big tobacco fighting back for the market share that has been slipping from its grasp. Not content with hooking huge numbers of addicts in the developing world (they've got east Asia by the short and curlies; in Africa they sell cigarettes to children for a few cents per stick), they are now investing in the e-cigarette trade, targeting all those countries where their market share is dropping. Basically, this is just all about making money by getting people addicted to nicotine and they do it by trying to make it look trendy, sophisticated and sexy. Here are a couple of examples of the sorts of images they use ...

Are the lips real or are they stuck on?
Wow! So cool and so ... healthy? Maybe not ...
Of course you've got to have breadth in any advertising campaign if you're going to maximise your catch. So naturally in the USA, the land of the free and home of the brave, there's bound to be advertising aimed at the notion of freedom. 
You can be free to stand your ground and shoot your neighbour and have an e-cigarette while you're about it ...

And, according to a University of California at San Francisco study released in March of this year,  big tobacco seems to be making inroads in the USA with its advertising, successfully recruiting a whole new cohort of teenage tobacco addicts via the back door of e-cigarettes.

In the United Kingdom (I refuse to call such a piddly, self-satisfied little place "Great Britain") it looks like big tobacco has friends in high places. The Poms are bringing in new laws which purport to put restrictions on e-cigarette advertising - but will allow images of people smoking e-cigarettes on television. A bit of doublespeak in the land that gave us George Orwell.

Thankfully, in Australia we seem to be moving the other way. The Cancer Council holds grave concerns that the trend towards e-cigarettes will once again make cigarette use appear glamorous to young people and people in high places seem to be listening. Under new legislation in Queensland, e-cigarettes are to be treated the same as tobacco products. Western Australia has gone a step further banning all e-cigarettes, even those that don't contain nicotine. The problems are seen as twofold: it's not possible to distinguish between e-cigarettes that only give a burst of bubblegum or banana flavour as opposed to a nicotine hit; and there is a danger of normalising children once again to the idea of smoking. It's just applying the same logic that has seen the elimination of cigarette-shaped candies in the lolly shops. 

More Grist For The Mill?

I could go on to talk about people sucking down so-called energy drinks but don't think I'll bother. Suffice it to say that Red Bull has been successfully sued for false advertising. As it turns out, a hit of Red Bull does no more for you than a cup of coffee. Rather than facing a lengthy, costly and publicity-damaging lawsuit it has caved in and promised $10 to anyone in the U.S. who claims to have bought a can of its bogus product with the expectation that it would give a boost in performance/attention/stamina/whatever. As far as I am concerned, the only good thing about Red Bull is their sponsorship of extreme athletes pushing the boundaries. I'll leave you with this wonderful clip of Danny Macaskill doing great things on his bike and, one would imagine, indirectly, good things for tourism on the Isle of Sky at the same time ...

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