The Noxious Weed
(hennhaus: Hard Bard)

(Originally published April 10, 1997)

The Noxious Weed

Smoking, wrote King James I in his 1604 “A Counterblaste to Tobacco,” is “[a] custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs, and in the black stinking fume thereof, nearest resembling the horrible Stygian smoke of the pit that is bottomless.” This quote is from the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse ‘History of Tobacco Regulation,’ a page in Cliff Schaffer’s Library of Drug Policy site.

King James bolstered his words by increasing Britain’s tobacco import duty, but his actions did little to dampen consumption; popular medical opinion at the time saw tobacco use as both pleasurable and medicinally beneficial — opinion that carried well into the twentieth century.

Tobacco products today are sold with government-composed and -imposed warnings on packaging and advertising. Not only is tobacco generally known as a health issue, for some it is also a moral issue.

Recently, a local newspaper ran a 3/4-page colour advertisement from Player’s. There was little in this particular ad that would hold any attraction to children or teens, but this issue was among those raised in other media. Historically, there’s sound reasoning behind this; a 1996 study in the American Marketing Association’s ‘Journal of Marketing‘ found teenagers are three times more sensitive to cigarette advertising than adults. More frightening, perhaps, was another study quoted therein noting over half of the 3- to 6-year-olds queried made the connection between a cartoon spokescamel and cigarettes.

The ‘BADvertising Institute,’ a vehicle for artist Bonnie Vierthaler, is well aware of these statistics; the Institute’s mandate is to “immuniz[e] kids against tobacco ads.” To accomplish this goal, Vierthaler replaces the fantasies portrayed in cigarette advertisements with realities drawn from medical journals and her own experience. The resultant ‘doctored’ ads are often humourous, and just as often chilling. A number of these BADvertisements may be viewed at the Institute’s site. They’re taken from ‘The Joy of Smoking . . . a spoof on cigarette ads,’ Vierthaler’s acclaimed 63-piece collage art exhibit. Aside from receiving critical success as artwork, the ads have enjoyed much media and journal coverage. The ads’ educational intent is taken seriously; an interested group sent a selection of Vierthaler posters to every school in America.

Rather than simply whining about misleading tobacco advertising, Vierthaler can rightly be said to be actively crusading against it: the Institute has slide-shows, posters and t-shirts for sale to groups alarmed at the link between cigarette ads and children; suggestions are offered in mounting your own counter-offense; Vierthaler even conducts workshops at schools.

Typically — as with many complex issues — the main stumbling-block with tobacco is money. Logically, governments are loath to permit the manufacture and sale of substances that provide no discernable benefit, are addictive, and can kill their consumers. This logic, however, is tempered with the need for tax revenue. Other problems include employment issues regarding tobacco farming and tobacco companies, tobacco company-sponsored arts and events, and investment revenue.

If you have moral problems with the tobacco industry, but are among the estimated 66 per cent of mutual fund investors who haven’t a clue what businesses their funds invest in, you may find to your surprise that you’re pumping money into tobacco. The Calvert Group, a Maryland-based investment company, offers a service — ‘Know What You Own’ — that addresses this. Type in a fund name; its top ten holdings — with special emphasis on tobacco concerns — are presented. I suspect that all the funds in the database are American; none of the Canadian funds I entered were recognized.

King James was well ahead of his time — not only in discerning smoking’s dangers, but also in seeing its potential for state revenue. Little has changed between government and tobacco in the ensuing four centuries.

History of Tobacco Regulation (http://calyx.com/~schaffer/LIBRARY/studies/nc/nc2b.html)

AMA Journal of Marketing (http://www.ama.org/amanews/smokeweb.htm)

BADvertising Institute (http://world.std.com/~batteryb/)

Know What You Own (http://www.calvertgroup.com/KNOW/Search.htm)

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Copyright © 1997, 2006 by John Rudzinski. Note the date the column was originally published; any links contained therein are probably outdated.
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Related media and reading:
Emergence of Advertising in America - Tobacco Advertising (2-CD Set) A Question of Intent: A Great American Battle With a Deadly Industry Tobacco Advertising: The Great Seduction (Schiffer Book for Collectors)