Take back cool

Posted on December 5, 2010 at 11:34 pm

Cigarette smoking has at least half of the seduction equation nailed – getting people to start. Of course, there’s no shortage of things to credit (or blame) for that – big advertising dollars, that sweet nicotine buzz, Marlene Dietrich, whatever. There’s a cool factor to smoking that has led generation after generation of people to pick up what is categorically an unhealthy and expensive habit.

And while an industry has sprung up around quitting – including Nicorette’s elegantly frank “Makes quitting suck less” campaign complete with Suckometer – it has yet to gain the same cache as lighting up in the first place.

Now the FDA is proposing requiring some very graphic images on cigarette packages – corpses, close-ups of mouth cancer, emaciated patients – paired with foreboding death threats.

Their approach has certainly got people talking. There are plenty of folks (and some data points to back them up) who say that these scare tactics work – taking all the glamour out of smoking and focusing on the consequences. Offering someone a cigarette from a pack emblazoned with a toe tag will certainly kill the mood for some.

But there are others – several of whom commented publicly on the CBS News site that shared the proposed images – that disagree. Some are even offended.

“It appears that the FDA thinks that all smokers are ignorant fools,”
reads one comment posted on the CBS News website. “Unless smokers live in caves with no access to any type of media, smokers are well aware of the possible consequences of tobacco use. A larger, more graphic warning label on cigarette packages is only intended to embarrass and humiliate smokers, as if they are not discriminated against enough as it is…[Smoking] is a personal choice, and they need to back off and leave smokers alone!”

Academic studies back this kind of emotion, too, such as the 1981 Beck and Lund study found that self-efficacy (the belief that someone can do something about their situation) is a more powerful motivator than fear.

So how can we take back cool – make smoking just as seductive to quit as it is to start? Focusing on what being a non-smoker give us, rather than what it takes from us? A couple of the FDA’s proposed images start to get at that, including the woman indulging in a bit of happy-childhood-memories-bubble blowing.

And that Nicorette “Sucks less” campaign with the Suckometer does a great job of sidling up next to someone and offering a sympathetic ear along with a swift kick in the pants. So let’s keep riffing on this idea – it’s an uphill battle for sure, but as the FDA reminds us with these new images, the alternatives ain’t pretty.

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  • fran melmed December 6, 2010 at 5:49 pm

    i wrote about these new graphic images too. there seems to be mixed reports on their effectiveness, and i was surprised by some of the anecdotal experiences some of my readers shared, such as one who shared that these graphic images became collectors’ items for teenagers. they tried to collect each one.

    i agree, however, with your idea of focusing on the positive but realistic. riffing off of the woman blowing bubbles, what about a PSA campaign that visually demonstrates the different things you can do w/in one day, one month, two months of quitting, using the more traditional timeline for smoking cessation benefits as a base?


    • Leigh December 7, 2010 at 10:11 am

      Love that idea, Fran! Such a more positive (and potentially more motivating) spin on the topic.

  • DJK January 4, 2011 at 12:20 pm

    I’ve noticed that smokers seek out other smokers. Whether at work, school or at a conference, they seem to find each other (discreetly at first, it seems) and then grab a smoke together.

    What about an ad that uses this as the jumping point – perhaps they find each other at a conference, head outside for a smoke then, while outside in the bitter cold (alone except for the two of them and neither wearing the proper gear to combat the cold) one asks the other why (s)he started smoking. Perhaps the reason is unknown but started waaaay back in high school…about how it was cool…perhaps do a flash back where a bunch of kids are smoking together and pressuring the non-smoker…then cut back to present day. Two people, alone in the cold smoking together. Silence.

    Nothing cool about that, I’d imagine…it could be effective. Not exactly funny. Not graphic. But gets a smoker to think about why they started and why they’re still doing it.