A lot of my posts recently seem to follow on from others. Sorry about that. This one follows on from an earlier piece about the enforced eradication of cigarette branding.
My attention was turned back on to the subject this morning following a bit of clicking around online. I happened across Ricky Trickartt’s interesting and pretty cool experimentation, which itself followed on from the earlier efforts of Build.
They’re both interesting, but essentially flawed because despite the best efforts of the designers, they still look pretty cool. Personally I think the last person in the world qualified to design an unappealing cigarette pack is an established and talented designer. The best person for the job must surely be an HR professional; finer purveyors of clipart, comic sans and Microsoft Publisher I’m yet to meet.
Anyway, in his accompanying blog, Trickartt questions the effectiveness of the health warnings found on fag packets:
“I’m sure it could be argued that smokers are becoming desensitised to the messages present on current cigarette packaging, but there’s not really any other consistent way of getting the message across. To people who don’t smoke or don’t spend a lot of time around cigarette packaging, though, the images and messages can seem shocking, and may act as a deterrant.”
I wonder if perhaps there is actually another consistent way of getting the message across. Either way, before I have a try myself I’d like to make known my own feelings on cigarettes in the hope that it might avoid my smoking readership coming over to punch me in my smug, self satisfied face.
As I said in my earlier post, despite my personal hatred of smoking, I do think smokers have been outcast enough now. If people want to smoke then let them, I don’t care. Why would I? With the smoking ban as it currently stands, it’s rare I ever even notice a cigarette, let alone smell one. In the last year I can only remember a single occasion where I had to deal with cigarette smoke, which makes me think that the worst aspect of tobacco smoke – passive smoking – has been mostly eradicated. Smokers pay horrendous tax on their chosen vice too which, let’s be honest, would only be sought elsewhere if they all quit.
So though this post may seem like yet another cheap stab at smokers, it really isn’t meant to be. I actually approach this from a certain level of personal experience. I’ve never smoked, but I have been on the receiving end of self righteous repetition for doing something deemed socially unacceptable. I used to drive a Land Rover you see, and there are few things this side of puppy stabbing that attract such holier than thou vitriol from an ignorant general public. So I know what it’s like to live through that same kind of blind criticism on a daily basis. I know what it’s like to be seen as evil, ignorant and stupid, to be treat as an outcast and an acceptable target of hate by those self appointed judges of virtue, those who are generally unaffected in all ways except the brief and tragically needed spike in their own sense of superiority and self worth.
So please, don’t take this post as smoker-bashing. I’m genuinely interested in what sort of thing might act as a good deterrent. Finding a good deterrent has got to be a good thing, right? Even if it offends? So, onward.
My first thought is that existing messages are a bit irrelevant. I mean, smoking kills? Smokers die younger? Yeah, we know. It gives you cancer and that. We’ve know that for years. So does everything else we consume, don’t consume, watch, don’t watch, do or don’t do. We live in a world where, if the media is to be believed, the only thing not carcinogenic is reading about things that are irrelevant to us and then getting offended by or worrying about them. We know threats of death and cancer don’t work – any health related threat is a bit of a lost cause. We don’t as a species seem to care much about things like that. Driving is one of the most dangerous things we humans do after all, yet we indulge on a daily basis. We accept risk and danger, some of us even seek it – it’s part of what we are. Must think of something better to focus on then.
What if we focus on a more immediate issue? Death to most of us seems a long way off but self esteem is right here, right now. It’s also a very delicate thing, far more open to manipulation than our sense of mortality. Perhaps we could point out how disgusting the smoker smells?
It’s a valid point, but it just sounds like non-smoker whining, which is never going to work. Smokers hear that already and choose not to care. Perhaps we could be more offensive then? Less whiney, more brutal?
No. There’s no faster way to lose your audience than by mindlessly insulting them. I’m not particularly happy with the reliance on insults anyway to be honest. We’re dealing with addiction here and insults aren’t going to be productive. We’re looking to provide incentives to quit, not to kick someone while they’re down. Carrots work better than sticks. Perhaps we need to dig further, really tug at the deeper psychological issues?
Hmm. I suppose I quite like the power of that. Surely it must hit a nerve with anyone who started smoking when they were young, when they bowed to peer pressure and took their first drags to fit in with the cool kids. The problem with this though is one of contradiction. The smoker is being attacked for being weak, easily led and conformist by an overbearing establishment trying to get them to conform to its will. Bit of a paradox, really. Still a little bit insulting, too.
So we’re looking for something hard hitting and eye opening, not focussed on health issues, and it can’t be offensive. It’s tricky stuff this.
Of course the use of imagery is a fairly recent and more hard hitting approach.
The application of such graphics has been a requirement here since 2009 and it’s all good stuff, but it must really suffer from desensitisation. Think about it; cinema audiences of today will sit through video nasties like Saw 12 or Hostel 6, happily devouring buckets of sugared popcorn and cookie dough Haagen Daaz, watching as innocent people are forced to eat their own eyeballs and have their legs indulgently wound through a mangle by a preposterous maniac, all in glorious HD and 3D.
Eight year olds spend their evenings chainsawing hookers to death and throwing grenades at everything in sight in Grand Theft Auto, and the charmless slapstick innocence of You’ve Been Framed long since gave way to decapitation compilations on Youtube. Our sense of decency is so out of whack that if anything is to even register as entertainment these days, it needs to be pretty extreme. Let’s be honest, a drunk fat auntie tumbling off an inadequate garden swing to the commentary of Harry Hill just doesn’t cut it as entertainment anymore when Tubgirl, Goatsee and 2 Girls 1 Cup are a mere click away. I’m not making those hyperlinks.
Big Brother (the TV one) was once an interesting study of human emotion, of group psychology. It was a relatively calm affair focussed on normal people discussing normal affairs in an abnormal situation, a study of how they dealt with isolation. When the experiment was repeated in series two we were immediately bored, and now if reality TV is to enjoy any ratings it has to feature manic depressive celebrities suspended by bungee cord over a vat of boiling piss, gnawing the genitals off a live kangaroo in a glass case full of vomit covered scorpions. This is 2011 – we’re alright with gore and violence. We expect it. If you want to shock us you’re going to have to try harder than a few pictures of smokey lung.
There is of course another overriding problem at play here. Pretty much anything you will put on a cigarette packet will come across as patronising. Every smoker knows the risks involved – it’s not an issue of lacking education. We all know smoking is bad and no harping on about it is going to make a difference. If someone smokes they do so knowingly, and no amount of information on the pack is bringing anything to the table. So it comes across as patronising crap, and being patronising is guaranteed to achieve nothing but the solidification of the mindset it’s trying to change.
It’s powerful then, being patronising – you’ve got to admit that. So perhaps we can turn it on its head and use it to our advantage? Worth bearing in mind.
What else? Money talks. Nobody likes waving goodbye to money, least of all in the form of taxation. Everybody hates The Man too don’t they – few things irritate the British more than the state telling us what to do for our own good. Which is exactly what we’re doing here really isn’t it. So again, what if we turn that on its head and use it to our advantage? What if we appeal to the smoking public’s famous belligerence, but from a different point of view? Might reverse psychology work?
Hmm, that looks a bit like a badge of honour. Maybe we need to drive the point home a bit more.
Bit wordy though, and lacking in punch. I’m a minimalist, so let’s see if we can cut the word count and increase the volume. Let’s add a bit of smugness too.
Are we getting anywhere? Perhaps if I add a picture of David Cameron’s stupid smug smiling millionaire face that’s got to help?
If bringing attention to the constant stench or lungs full of poisonous tar is failing to get the message across, maybe a picture of a smug millionaire gloating patronisingly about the outrageous amount of tax smokers voluntarily pay for those delightful privileges will provide a bit more of an incentive to quit.
Thanks to Carnavalet and Andy Bullock for making their pictures available for reproduction under creative commons licenses.