Thursday, May 15, 2008

Anti-Smoking Terrormercials & You

Joe woke us up this morning with this question: "Mommy, did you ever smoke?"

"No," Jen said. I elbowed her in the ribs and made a loud coughing noise. "Ok, yes," she admitted, "but not since long before you were born."

"Why do you ask?" I asked. (I've explained to the boy that yes, once upon a time, I've puffed a few Marlboros as well.)

"No reason," he said, shrugging.

It hit Jen. "Wait a minute," she said, "is this because of those commercials where the lady has her fingertips cut off because of smoking?" (For those who don't know, Jen's fingers are different sizes because of a birth defect.)

"...Yeah," Joe admitted.

"Haven't I explained to you before that I was born that way?"

"I know."

"So why are you asking?"

"I don't know..."

Now, I know smoking is bad, and kids should learn not to do it, etcetera. Such education started when I was a kid in the 70s. It didn't work, because by the time were were teenagers, we had done most of the stuff they had been telling us non-stop not to do. When I was a kid, I would go so far as to replace my grandfather's cigarettes with little rolled up pieces of paper that said "Please stop smoking, I love you." Part of this was because of my father. He had smoked, once upon a time, and hated the habit with a passion. I was much more afraid of what my father would do to me if he caught me smoking than I was of any health risks. However, by the time I was 14, I was bumming smokes off my friend's older brother. (I admit I didn't actually inhale until I was 18.) While there was never any of the "peer pressure" that ABC After-School Specials blamed everything on , the fact that the cool kids did it was enough. Part of the problem was Antioch. Antioch was a Catholic youth group, where a lot of smoking went on in the parking lot. No one really cared that much. Hell, in our High School we had a smoking lounge, much to the chagrin of the lady who would come on Smokeout Day to show us all pictures of rotted lungs.

I rarely smoke anymore, due to the bar ban, as I'd never do it in the apartment or around the kids. The only time I would really smoke as an adult was when I was having a beer. I never had a pack a day habit, or even a pack a week habit. I'd go through a pack in a month, which would mean the cigarettes would be stale before I reached the end of the pack. I think all these bans have less to do with actually caring about public health and more with skyrocketing health-care and insurance costs.

So, what's my problem? I just think that as with almost every issue, terrormercials are not the answer, and are more misleading than anything. For example, Buerger's Disease (which is what the amputated lady in the Anti-smoking ad in question suffers from) affects 6 in 10,000. That's right, it's rare. Apart from grossing people out, I doubt if such shock tactics have had any real effect on anyone's behavior. Instead of trying to terrorize your kids, try actually talking to them, being honest, fessing up about your past mistakes, and yes, admit that while it's a horrible habit with health consequences, one cigarette isn't the end of the world.

Although it's about pot and not cigarettes, I'd suggest everyone to watch the South Park episode, "My Future Self 'n' Me." (free online!) They do the subject of over-the-top scare tactics much more justice than I could.



Caroline said...

I suspect that such terrormercials (great name, is it yours?) do more harm than good.

My father died of lung cancer. I was 17, my brothers 16 and 13 and my sister 11 when he died. Seeing him take 6 months from diagnosis to death and nursing him throughout I thought that all of my siblings would avoid smoking automatically... but no, both my brothers smoke... though my sister doesn't (as far as I know)... one brother attempted to pretend he didn't but his wife let on and I had to mention I'd always been able to tell... you can't hide the smell of smoke from a non-smoker!

And the harm? Well it certainly increases worry and stress in many... both strong risks factors that increase the likelihood and severity of all sorts of diseases in all sorts of ways...

Knitting Painter Woman said...

The problem with Terrormercials, or influencing through fear, is that when the fear evaporates, the behavior flourishes. MUCH better to use persuasion... Nicotine IS one of the great anxiety reducers, so I'm not surprised people gravitate to it. But exercise, rest and meditation are just as good without the negative side effects.
Be well.

Aravis said...

I'm so glad I haven't seen that one. What a rotten thing to do. I tend to agree with everyone else here: these tactics don't work.