Cigarettes kill. There’s no denying that. Since the passing of the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act in 1971, the advertisement of tobacco products has been banned on television and radio. In 1984, cigarette companies were forced into attaching the Surgeon General’s warning onto their packaging. Slowly, the danger of using tobacco products became more well known. However, it wasn’t until 1999 that advertisement shifted to full-blown anti-smoking campaigns.
The most well-known anti-smoking campaign is the “truth” campaign; stylized with a lowercase ‘t’. The organization was established in 1999 and focused on reducing the usage of tobacco by teenagers. They are known for using unusual commercials and fear tactics in order to discourage tobacco use. Understandably so. Fear is a good way to discourage someone from doing something. The “Real Cost” campaign also uses appalling imagery in order to represent what cigarettes can do to a person. They incorporate statistics with their ads in order to scare and educate viewers.
The “truth” campaign is another monster entirely. Recently, the “truth” campaign has warped into a condescending nightmare of non-relatable nonsense. Their ads as of late have been targeted toward teenagers in the most condescending way a company could. In an attempt to relate to teens, “truth” ads attempt to utilize popular internet culture; memes. With a basic understanding of what memes are, the “truth” campaign attempted to spew them onto a canvas until they had their anti-smoking ad[JK1] [JK2] . Here’s the issue. Memes are an absurd form of comedy that can only be described as inside jokes for the entire internet. Because of the nature of the internet, memes tend to be funny only as long as no one gets sick of the joke. Replicating memes and coercing them to fit into their agenda is condescending, because it assumes that they’re funny in any context and that teens watching will identify with their favorite repetitive jokes and choose not to smoke.
Why did the chicken cross the road? Because their friend offered them a cigarette.
“truth” is pushing their agenda using a medium that doesn’t fit the tone of the message. Using tobacco is dangerous to peoples’ livelihood. To make light of it and try to “relate to the kids” mocks the intelligence of their target audience. Insinuating that your audience is stupid is a bad way of trying to convince that audience of something.
On top of their attempt to appeal to youth culture is their “squadless” commercials. “Squad” is a slang term referring to a group of friends that frequently hang out. Clearly any usage of young people lingo results in immediate relatability.
The purpose of the “squadless” ads are to shed light on the #WageGap. No, not the wage gap between men and women working the same job that has been a talking point for decades. I am referring to the #WageGap that is a buzzword alluding to the aforementioned social issue, but actually refers to the “fact” that smokers, on average, make $10,000 less per year than a non-smoker. Ignoring the use of the buzzword as a way of garnering attention, their “fact” about smokers making less money is entirely fabricated. Correlation is not causation. Yes, on average a person who smokes will make less money than someone who does not. This is not due to their smoking. This is a factor of socioeconomic status.
Generally speaking, the lower class is more inclined to smoke due to the environment in which they live. On the other hand, the higher classes are less inclined to smoke due to the stigma surrounding smokers in their community. The fact that they smoke is irrelevant to the statistic. A person who smokes is not going to suddenly struggle financially. In fact, they’re more likely to find higher pay, because they need the money to keep buying cigarettes. Addictions will do that.
But sure, ignore the bigger picture and continue making your music videos about Tinder and how a user is less likely to hook up if they’re seen smoking.
Bear in mind, tobacco usage is still dangerous. The ignorance of “truth’s” marketing team does not diminish how harmful tobacco is. However, if these companies sincerely expect to educate the masses on the dangers of cigarettes, then they’re going to have to stop trying to entertain and appeal to the audience and start educating.