Unintended consequences of anti-tobacco zealotry

The Big Pharma sponsored anti-tobacco crusaders have had a couple of their ideas bounce back at them in the last few days. First is the news that the fact that no smoking signs actually outnumber smokers, or at least seem to what with laws requiring them to be put up just about everywhere imaginable, may actually be encouraging people to smoke. Remember this bit of TV from a few years back?

Partcularly the bit where he says that you immediately think of a black cat when someone tells you not to think of a black cat. Well, it seems that the no smoking message being plastered on every available surface is having a similar effect.

No-smoking signs may be driving more people to light up, a psychological study suggests.
Scientists say the messages have an ”ironic effect” that increases smokers’ craving for tobacco.
”You get ironic effects when you couple information that people perceive with negation,” said researcher Brian Earp, from Oxford University. ”When I say don’t think of a pink elephant, I’ve just put the thought of a pink elephant in your head.”

Black cat, pink elephant, do not go and have a lovely soothing cigarette while reading this. See?

”No-smoking signs in particular are everywhere. If you’re a smoker walking down a street you’re likely to pass five or six of these signs in windows or on doors. If you have a chronically positive attitude to smoking this could boost your craving.”

But also, and here I’m speaking from personal experience, if you have a negative attitude to smoking. Both my regular readers will know that I once smoked but gave up a few years ago, and now think of myself as a non-smoker, though the tolerant and freedom loving kind, rather than an ex-smoker. What I may not have mentioned was what I found the toughest part of giving up smoking. It wasn’t the cravings or not knowing what to do with hands that were used to being occupied with making, lighting or smoking cigarettes, although I went through phases of both.* No, it was the non-stop barrage of anti-smoking messages, bansturbation signs and offers to help me quit smoking when up ’til the point I saw them I’d gone several hours without even thinking about smoking.

And then the fucking fuckers fucking went and fucking reminded me!

Follow-up research which has not yet been published indicates that anti-smoking messages really do prompt smokers to light up.
Mr Earp thought the same principle might apply to other public health messages, such as ”Say no to drugs”.

Exactly! It drove me away from the TV because every program on the commercial channels was and still is guaranteed to have at least one ad break include an advert about some over-priced nicotine patch or gum or a bit of government strength-through-joy-ism on the subject, and it used to fucking infuriate me that every fucking time it would remind me that I hadn’t had a ciggie for days and fucking make me want to have one all over again. They’ve long since ceased to have that effect on me but it still boils my piss whenever I see one because I remember how often I’d have a bout of craving a cigarette brought on by nothing other than the wowsers’ efforts at making me stop. I could cheerfully have shot the fucking TV. Overall I found that quitting smoking is actually pretty easy with willpower alone once you’ve lost any real desire to carry on smoking, but the nannying bastards would make life a hell of a lot easier for people in the process of giving up smoking if they’d just shut the fuck up about it.

They won’t, of course. They know it doesn’t sell any patches or gum.

The second own goal, though to be honest I’m not sure if the one above is a bug or a feature, is specific to Australia and relates to the idea of reducing smoking by making legal tobacco products come in plain packaging just like all the illegal tobacco and drugs which don’t struggle for customers.** As I mentioned a few weeks ago, Nicola Roxon, the Minister for Health and Aging (at least the second part of her portfolio looks after itself), unveiled a design of plain box consisting of the predictable shocking image cum health warning and the brand and variety of cigarette in a boring font on a plain olive green background. Needless to say the tobacco industry has complained but they’ve been joined by another. Hilariously the olive industry is now getting involved.

The federal government’s plan for all cigarettes to be sold in plain ”olive green” packaging has outraged the Australian Olive Association, which claims the move will denigrate their brand and cost them money.

Translation: olive growers do not want to be tarred with the notoriously broad de-normalisation brush.

Chief executive Lisa Rowntree has sent a cease-and-desist letter to Health Minister Nicola Roxon, asking her to stop using the term ”olive green” and instead adopt the term ”drab green”. The letter states: ”Our members are having enough problems countering the flood of imported olive products being dumped in Australia via the large supermarket chains without the government promoting to the community that there is something negative about olive green.”
[…]
Mrs Rowntree told The Sunday Age the Health Minister’s comments were potentially damaging.
”She referred to it as ‘disgusting’ olive green, so it hasn’t been very favourable. To associate any food with cigarettes is a thoughtless thing to do, especially one that’s had a very good reputation as being a healthy product. You could have called it ‘drab green’ or ‘khaki green’ or, better still, not used green at all,” she said.
‘Green is also a healthy word – green, clean – it’s not a colour that should be associated with cigarette packaging. It’s the colour of our leaves, it’s trees, it’s grass, it’s nature and I think to use a nature colour like green in cigarette packaging is ridiculous.”

Oooh, wouldn’t it be funny if the Green party joined in as well? Oh, and hey, when you’ve finished I suggest you take on all the world’s militaries who’ve chosen your favourite colour both for uniforms and paint schemes for all kinds of really deadly equipment.

Absolutely positively not olives – do not add to pizza

“I don’t think it’s been very well thought through at all.”

Look, love, I could have told you that, though it’s been poorly thought through in more ways than you’re thinking of. As for your claim that your customers may associate olives with cigarettes because of the use of the colour and term ‘olive drab’, it makes you sound like you think they’re not terribly bright. Being able to distinguish a small fruit that goes into salads, pizzas and martinis from something that you put in your mouth and set fire to is as easy as, oh, I don’t know, noticing that a road legal Ford ute is not the same thing as a Ferrari Formula One racing car. On that occasion Ford also thought its brand was somehow threatened by the use of a similar name and actually began legal action, resulting in Ferrari changing the name and issuing a wonderfully sarcastic press release:

“In order to avoid the slightest risk of anyone confusing a Formula 1 car with a pick-up truck, for their part the men from Maranello have decided that the car will lose the F that precedes the number 150 and which stands for Ferrari, as it has done on numerous occasions when it’s come to giving a car a code name, be it for the race track or the road,” read a Ferrari statement.

“It appears that this could have caused so much confusion in the minds of the consumer across the Pond that, at the same time as losing the F, the name will be completely Italianised, replacing the English “th” with the equivalent Italian symbol.

“Therefore the name will now read as the Ferrari 150° Italia, which should make it clear even to the thickest of people that the name of the car is a tribute to the anniversary of the unification of our country.”

I’d be tempted to suggest that official nanny health minister Nicola Roxon write a similar letter back to Mrs Rowntree and the olive growers, but as far as I’m concerned anything that gives her a headache over this ridiculous and pointless plain to introduce plain packaging in the vague hope of reducing smoking, but possibly the more realistic aim of beating us poms at something, by introducing plain packaging is on the whole a good thing.

In a statement Ms Roxon said: ”I’d be happy to offer an (olive) branch to the association and support their bid for greater publicity.”

I’d be happy for you all to have a branch apiece if you use them to beat some sense into each other.

* And now and again I do still miss the satisfaction of having hand rolled a near perfect, even and crinkle free roll up. Despite having absolutely no desire to smoke one if a rollie smoker came round I’d probably beg him for his paper and baccy and happily make him a load of smokes for later on. It’s odd what the body remembers – last time I tried the first cigarette was passable and by the third or fourth the fingers had remembered enough to make pretty respectable efforts, but the last time I tried riding a bicycle I fell off.
** I don’t think they’ve thought of it that way.

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Posted on May 9, 2011, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Unintended consequences of anti-tobacco zealotry.

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