21 February 2008

A new wheeze tease: tobacco ads return to Canadian magazines

I should have been better prepared to have my flabber gasted, but I don't know what confounded me the most: learning that cigarettes are once again being peddled in Canadian magazines or the jarring use of the word "anyways" in the Canadian Medical Association Journal report that brought this depressing news to my attention [1]. Of course, the smelly reality of tobacco hawking gets a higher ranking in the shocked-and-appalled section of my catalogue of outrage. Vocabulary concerns aside, I am forced to reflect on the putrid fact that, like zot skunque de terriblay odeur, tobacco ads are back. I feel like poor Penelope Pussycat, squirming madly to escape the foul embrace of a love-struck Pepé Le Pew. L'amour toujours.

Having squandered my youth on the "fuliginous moyste vapours which trouble the harte and strike up into the head" [2], I can say I was duly formed (and possibly stunted) by cigarette culture. Surrounded by the floating signifiers of its advertising — and the choking fumes of its products — I coughed my way through the cloudy expanses of Marlboro country, trying every filter, flavour and flip-top box on offer. Now in my winded late middle age I can breathe a sigh of relief that I parted ways with the sacred herb years ago, and that my loved ones and I are no longer subjected to the throaty blandishments of cigarette commercials in smoke-filled rooms. At least, that's what I thought until I received this week's My NCBI update with the latest from CMAJ.

Le mew? Le purrrrr? Non, c'est le terriblay skunque fatale!
The otherwise grammatical CMAJ article informs us that, without fanfare and with little controversy, one of the Canadian tobacco industry's "big 3," JTI-Macdonald Corp. (the other two are Imperial Tobacco Canada Ltd. and Rothmans, Benson and Hedges Inc.) recently opened a new front in the ongoing tar wars. The makers of my former favourite wheeze tease are launching new products by advertising them in entertainment magazines such as Montreal's Mirror and Vancouver's Georgia Straight, and in the less-entertaining Canuck edition of Time. Yes, Canadian mags are rolling their own again. The smell of dollar bills and tobacco leaves has always made a good blend. Roger Collier, the journalist responsible for the CMAJ article, first reported last December on this new phase of tobacco shilling in the Ottawa Citizen.

I read with a creeping sense of unease about the new Mirage brand of smokes now being offered for our delight and delectation. Armed with their Exocets of nicotine and carbon monoxide, these new-fangled cigarettes are supposedly scented with vanilla so that they emit a "less lingering tobacco smell in an enclosed area." Through one of those grotesque coinages of the advertising industry this celebrated feature is termed "unique Less Smoke Smell (LSS) Technology." The only thing I smell here is a skunk. I submit that LSS will turn out to be about as effective at dispersing stinky cigarette smoke as my past practice of spraying Lysol and furiously swiping an open palm back and forth in the boys' room. You might as well try dousing Pepé Le Pew with Chanel No. 5.

Scent-imental over you
Way back in the wild and primitive days of my shaggy-haired youth, when Keith Richards could walk — and Elton John could pass for — straight, I also made liberal use of incense in my bedroom to hide the stench of my two smoking habits, and, like Elton, fooling nobody. How I and my friends must have reeked at our happenings, sit-ins, be-ins, and in-ins, daubed with patchouli oil, chewing Chicklets, and flourishing our trendy Gauloises. I confess to a certain nostalgia for that time. We would-be intellectuals frequented smoky coffee shops to gesticulate with glowing ash, listen to sitar music and talk about poetry, pointillism and proletarian revolution. Nowadays, it seems young people frequent fume-free coffee shops to listen to their mobile devices and talk about — coffee.

An aside. In a recent Lancet article [3] on the social commentary implicit in Dickens' Little Dorrit, James Horton too betrays a certain nostalgia for pipe and plume:

Little Dorrit is also Dickens' striking tribute to tobacco, his great smoking novel. From the opening pages, tobacco is rolled, lit, inhaled, smoked down to the fingers, stuffed into English and Eastern pipes, presented as cigars, traded in "snug" businesses, and used as refreshment and as an idle accompaniment to long journeys. Smoking, or rather ceasing to smoke, is the one means by which [Amy Dorrit's] father signals, even celebrates, the freedom of his new life after leaving the Marshalsea [debtor's prison].
Who scent you?
But that was then, and this is now. Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada would like to stick it to Japan Tobacco and have called upon Health Canada and Health Minister Tony Clement to end JTI's advertising campaign, claiming that it is misleading and contravenes the 1997 Tobacco Act. In this country it is against the law to promote tobacco products by means "that are likely to create an erroneous impression about the characteristics, health effects or health hazards of the tobacco product or its emissions." Erroneous doesn't even begin to describe the breathtaking mendacity of the Mirage campaign. Tobacco ads are so offensive to good taste and common sense, they should be banned for that reason alone. Kel terriblay odeur!

Past perfumance
In June of last year the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the legal restrictions on tobacco advertising, dismissing an expensive, decade-long court battle which argued that such laws violate the right to freedom of expression. However, the court did admit that there is still a window of legitimate advertising in this country, through which the tobacco companies have now nimbly climbed with their glossy adverts and website bromides, after a long silence. For a decade big Canadian tobacco refrained from huckstering in mass-market publications, arguing that the restrictions were so limiting as to constitute a ban. Until 2003 they confined their efforts to "lifestyle" marketing through sponsorship of music festivals, car races and the like, until that route was closed off when a general prohibition on such stealth advertising came into effect. The Tobacco Act actually allows cigarette promotions that are "information advertising or brand-preference advertising," directed at adults in various ways, in "a publication that has an adult readership of not less than eighty-five per cent." Now that the Supreme Court has settled matters, the tobacco companies seem to have decided to exploit whatever opportunities are left to them. Hence the magazine advertising campaign. The three mags mentioned in the CMAJ article have a relatively large circulation. I'm not sure how it is determined that a particular publication's audience consists mostly of adults; although there would probably be general agreement that Time is not exactly at the top of a teenager's list of must-reads. Regardless, there is no doubt that tobacco's new ad offensive will increase the likelihood that kids will start to smoke [4] or (eww!) chew [5]. We can expect more clever and costly promo campaigns in the future. Come viz me to ze Cats-bah!

The ultimate target. "Eet ees possible to be too attractive, no?"
In the past ten years that the Tobacco Act has been in force, smoking prevalence in Canada has dropped from about 30% to 18% for Canadians 15 years of age and older. That's far too many clean sets of adolescent lungs to be endured. Air pollution can't finish the job properly. Something has to be done. Perhaps LSS "technology" will be the prime coolness factor, the lure that brings more lips to butts. As the insidious infiltration of tobacco advertising continues (see my post of 30 Dec 2007) my six young nephews are a pretty easy target. Alert to every nano-variation of current coolness, they have been firmly indoctrinated in the principles of our feckless, thoughtless, throw-away society. Critical thinking is still a great effort, so they prefer to let media dictate their needs. Like many males their age they are stolid, taciturn, twitchy with misfiring hormones, occasionally surly, mostly funny, optimistic, absurdly affectionate, and hopelessly normal. Their heads full of turbid, TV-fed fantasies of sex, slugs and pelf, they are paradigmatically unaware of the civilizing effects of etiquette, self-discipline and soap — I love them dearly. The three oldest are smokers, the other three probably will stay tobacco-free. But their luck so far in avoiding those nicotine-fuelled Exocets will start to run out as more ads for Camel, Craven A and Mirage start popping up like love-sick skunks around them. Whether for smoking or expectorating, tobacco products are ultimately designed for and promoted to youth. That's because adult users have the unfortunate habit of dying off. Here's hoping that as a member of WHO'S Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, Canada will follow Australia's example and ban all tobacco product peddling by 2010. Otherwise we'll all be singing Louvre come back to me.

For those who follow this sort of thing, over at the Scientific Misconduct Blog there is an interesting post on another kind of questionable magazine advertising, this time in the venerable British Medical Journal. In the 16 Feb 2008 issue 88.4% of ads are by pharmaceutical companies. Kel terriblay odeur, indeed.

Now that they have begun to deploy their substantial forces, CMAJ's report concludes, keeping Canadian tobacco companies out of the ad game won't be easy. Richard Pollay, a University of British Columbia marketing professor who has followed tobacco marketing for twenty years, provides the closing remark: "The industry is endlessly creative, not only adapting to new legislation or changing public sentiment, but anticipating them. They're playing chess when everyone else is playing checkers." The next move is up to us.

Chess is as elaborate a waste of human intelligence as you can find outside an advertising agency. ~ Raymond Chandler


1. Collier R. Cigarette ads return to Canadian magazines. CMAJ. 2008 Feb 12;178(4):384-5. PMID: 18268258

2. Gratarolo G, Newton T. A direction for the health of magistrates and studentes, namely suche as bee in their consistent age, or neere thereunto: drawen as well out of sundry good and commendable authours, as also upon reason and faithfull experience otherwise certaynely grounded. London: Imprinted by William How for Abraham Veale; 1574

3. Horton R. The resistance of Little Dorrit. Lancet. 2008 Feb 9;371(9611):468-9. PMID: 18271080

4. Lovato C, Linn G, Stead LF, Best A. Impact of tobacco advertising and promotion on increasing adolescent smoking behaviours. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2003, Issue 4. Art. No.: CD003439. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD003439

5. Morrison MA, Krugman DM, Park P. Under the radar: smokeless tobacco advertising in magazines with substantial youth readership. Am J Public Health. 2008 Jan 30. PMID: 17600263


LEDA said...

Give it a break already. The relentless assault on tobacco is above and beyond reason.

Smoking is not good for you we all know. People who die of smoking related illness smoked 2-3 packs a day for years.

Second hand smoke smells bad but doesn't kill anyone, Show me the "studies" that says it does.

After hundreds of millions (if not
billions) of exposures by non-smokers to second hand smoke you can only name one person - a waitress in Ontario who died of lung cancer - "attributed" to second hand smoke. I grew up in a blue cloud of smoke as a lot of my generation did and no one is dying.

I am a former smoker and I quit for my own reasons. Smokers live in my house and my guests are not rudely sent outside if they want to smoke.

Non-smokers are not paying extra for life insurance if they live with a smoker, only the smoker is, they should know.

Go away and take all your kind with you, including the global warming and obesity epidemic wack jobs.


The Shelver said...

Sorry Leda. It's not good enough to say "enough."

And excuse my humourless demurral, but from my angle the "relentless assault" has been FROM not ON tobacco.

I am a former smoker too, and I quit for my own reasons, just like you. I also grew up in a "blue cloud of smoke." But my experience has been different from yours. Someone did die, someone very close to me. Lung disease took her well before her time.

So I won't go away, nor will "my kind," as long as immensely profitable tobacco companies prey on children. Your choice to retreat into your crank's lair makes all the more evident the power of corporations to intimidate criticism and manufacture consent.

Look at the name of that new brand of cigarettes, for heaven's sake: "Mirage." Don't you see that the joke's on you?

LEDA said...


I'm sorry for your loss, we have all been there as nature takes it's course.

No I am not intimidated by corporate. This whole "big tobacco" thing on nonsense.

People like to smoke. You should know that.

Your message comes across as just another anti-corporate anti-globalization left wing nut job - which I sure you are not.

Do you drive a car? Look at the carnage on the highways - why do you think more people are not calling for that to be controlled or outright banned? Big car companies are making people drive and they are killing us!! The reason no one is calling for their demise is that there are so many people using the product that it would be too inconvenient for too many. But smokers? They are an easy target. The anti smoking zealots are not going to stop with cigarettes, they will be coming for you and me someday, and who is going to stand in their way if all the oxes have been gored.

These groups are anti-freedom and anti-corporate of the highest order and will use anything to get control of all aspects of peoples lives through the suppression of
individual rights. These groups want to control what we eat, say and think.

For example they are trying to use the health care system to control what we do, by suggesting our actions cost the system money, so we should be forced to stop doing things that cost the health care system money. Courts are ruling this way now - an Ont man was told he had to wear a helmet on his Harley (a turban complaint) because of potential costs to the health care system. Do you realize how broad ranging that is or could be? People are buying into this nonsense. It might come down to a court challenge that the health care system is unconstitutional as it limits our rights and freedoms!

It is you who's being useful to these groups and the joke is on you - and it's not very funny.

The Shelver said...


Thank you for confirming so conclusively my growing conviction that the attack of the body snatchers has already begun.

Aubrey Blumsohn said...

This is an interesting interchange.

"Never try to reason the prejudice out of a man. It was not reasoned into him, and cannot be reasoned out."
-Sydney Smith (1771 - 1845)

Incidentally, with regard to the proportion of advertising in the British Medical Journal that is pharmaceutical, you hit the lowest month ever. Typically it runs at around 95%.
(See collated BMJ Advertising analyses)

There are a lot of issues there, some summarized here. Most of the advertisements would (if followed) lead to inappropriate prescribing.

Truth in Advertising - n. a fiction whose realization is impossible. Advertising's end is selling, and should truth enter the practice it would mean the end of selling. The end of selling is the end of civilization.
-Stephen R. Brubaker, 2006