Anti-smoking ads present a pretty simple situation: Smoking is bad because you get addicted to the nicotine and the tar turns your lungs into a swampy, black death-marsh. There's nothing enjoyable about smoking, and unless you manage to get nicotine's evil claws out of your brain, you will die.
Not quite. While it's true that nicotine is a motherfucker, it's not the only reason people continue to smoke. There are all kinds of other things that keep you puffing away whether or not you feel those chemical cravings. Things like ...
#6. The Excuse To Take A Break From A Social Situation
This anti-smoking ad depicts cigarettes as a bully that forces you away from the stuff you enjoy doing so you can go outside and smoke him. You know -- just like real bullies.
The addiction metaphor is pretty clear, and it shows smoking addiction as an inconvenient burden. Which it is! Sometimes! Sometimes it's not.
For every time you feel like a cigarette is dragging you away, there will be another time that they swooped in and saved you like a carcinogenic guardian angel. For example, parties: While some people really enjoy parties and seem to gain energy from the constant stimulation, other people (like me) can become exhausted and need to find an excuse to go away and find some quiet and just breathe some air that hasn't already been in someone else's mouth. And when that time comes along, cigarettes are pretty much the only socially acceptable option.
No, really -- it's the only thing you're allowed to do, because all the other potential excuses are either pathetic or hints that you might be a serial killer. "I'm going to get some air" makes it sound like you've drunk too much and are going to puke in the bushes. Hiding in the bathroom is weird. You can pretend to take a phone call, I suppose, but that would be literally the most shameful thing anyone has ever done. I think this is why the creepy loner stereotype always includes a cigarette: the reason smoking seemed attractive to them in the first place is because it gave them a chance to step outside and recharge before their brain turned to oatmeal.
#5. The Excuse To Take A Break From Work
Here's another anti-smoking ad that takes a similar approach as the "bully" one, but this time in a work environment. Sir Nigel St. Britishthorpe is just trying to get some goddamn work done, when out of nowhere a magic fish hook snares his cheek and drags his protesting body through the office, past his uncaring co-workers, and hurls him outside, where he promptly lights up. "The average smoker needs over 5,000 cigarettes a year," an ominous voiceover informs us. You can watch it here, and you should because it'll help you keep track of what I'm talking about for the rest of this entry:
Meanwhile, I'm shocked that we were supposed to feel bad for this guy.
Aside from the fish-hook in his face, this is a video about a guy who finally got a chance to relax. Work is clearly being a pain in the ass right now, and his crippling addiction is how he got to take a break. This isn't just a nice thing for this one dude; it's literally how smoking became popular in the first place. "Smoking breaks" used to be a kind of currency in the U.S. military, where good behavior was rewarded with more time off to fellate the papery penis of death.
Much like in my last entry, here cigarettes are the only acceptable way to stop working for a minute. What other excuse is there to step away from your desk for a while? "I gotta poop" is fine once or maybe twice, but everyone knows that you're either masturbating or playing Tetris in there. And neither of those things are cool at all. Cigarettes, on the other hand, are cool. Which leads me to my next point.
#4. Being Cool
Here's another anti-smoking ad that, instead of going for surrealism, dives right into 1980s John Carpenter territory:
In the ad, cigarettes are a crab-like space demon that attacks a class full of kids and their teacher before scuttling back inside its pack to hide or lurk or whatever. Then it says, "If cigarettes looked as dangerous as they are, you'd run." Sure, that might very well be true, but it completely misses the point, because cigarettes don't look as dangerous as they are. They look cool.
Every time you tell someone that smoking isn't cool, you make smoking cooler. Because expressing any opinion about whether or not smoking is cool means you're not cool. Which is why I'm not cool either. At least, not since I quit smoking.
While it's true that movie stars smoking cigarettes probably helped keep smoking cool, it's also true that we started giving movie stars cigarettes to smoke because they're inherently cool. Why? First of all, there's the death thing: Embracing your own mortality and not caring that what you're doing is dangerous and deadly is inherently cool. It's the number one thing we embrace in our aspirational heroes.
I'm hard-pressed to tell you what the coolest part of this picture is.
So, yeah. If cigarettes were the headcrabs from Half-Life, we'd run away, and this would be a completely different type of problem, because nobody ever tried to smoke the headcrabs from Half-Life. If cigarettes were ISIS, then they'd be a hot geopolitical topic. If cigarettes were The Postal Service, they'd be the short-lived electronic side-project of Death Cab For Cutie's Ben Gibbard that despite releasing only one album still managed to be superior to his original band in every way.
But they aren't any of those things. They're cigarettes, and they're cool. And without them, I will always be less cool, and I will always be pining for the days when I looked really cool because I smoked. And I will always know that, the older I get, the cooler I will look if I start smoking again, because an old guy with a cigarette?
That's cool. That's next-level cool. That's Clint Motherfucking Eastwood cool.
That's why, even after we made it illegal to advertise cigarettes in this country, young people kept getting addicted. This is a product that doesn't need advertisement, because a big chunk of our culture is built around encouraging awkward or shy or standoffish people to try this out this stupid habit. And it gets worse, because once you start smoking regularly, you fall in love with...