Last week the Government was reported to be proposing a ban on tobacco ads within a mile of schools. That's a good start, as advertising cigarettes does encourage new smokers, especially teenagers. We are McLuhan's babies, we are a media-literate generation. Books count for nothing, but television and movies and advertising billboards are our lives. We see an obscure, arty cigarette advert and reckon a measure of our intelligence is working out what brand they're selling. If we're smart enough to do that, we can go out and buy the product.
Cigarette advertising influences teenagers because we have no concept of mortality. The warning at the bottom of cigarette ads, that smoking damages health, is irrelevant to us because we know there is no way we are going to die. If a shoemaker advertised a pair of shoes we liked, with a warning that they could damage our feet, we'd buy them anyway. Smoking is no different.
My parents are perhaps unusual in that neither of them has ever smoked. Unlike most of my friends who smoke (and most of them do) I never filched a fag from a pack lying around the house. I tried it when I was nine because everyone else was doing it and I didn't want to seem rude or standoffish. I tried really hard to like smoking, well aware of the rock 'n' roll/movie star mythology surrounding it. I wanted to look like Lauren Bacall in To Have And Have Not. I wanted to be bohemian. But I couldn't combat the basic problem that cigarettes make me feel sick.
I don't mind my friends smoking - I eat too much junk food, nobody's perfect. But I do mind adverts telling them that smoking is cool. It isn't. It makes you smell, it eats up your money, it makes you cough, it makes you ill. It kills you.
But the ads are not the root of the problem. Their influence pales beside the subliminal message we get every time we see a fashion spread with a picture of Kate Moss dangling a cigarette from her elegant lips. Smoking equals thin.
In the end, I doubt that you'll completely ban cigarette advertising of your own accord. The tax revenue is too great and the corporations are too big.
Having said all this, I'm not sure cigarette advertising is really the major issue. If they can be sold, it follows that they should be allowed to advertise. Perhaps it is the product itself you should think about banning.
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