Recently I jokingly asked someone if they could recommend a brand of cigarettes, because I needed a hobby, and I planned to take up smoking. This was met with a glassy-eyed stare and an earnest lecture against the evils of smoking – idiotprufs
Whether it’s a performance, simulation or ‘how to’ content; whenever it comes to smoking, everything seduces me to take a drag. Puffing clouds of heaven and achieving that temporary transcendent state of nirvana where there is no suffering.
I’m not glorifying smoking, purposely. And no, this is not moral policing either. It’s always about appreciating and of-course enjoying the art involved. Tobacco companies which were once the gods of marketing and creativity, their work have now reduced to a trigger to lost memories.
Creativity can be controlled to some extent but can’t be contained. An attempt to do so eventually kill it. Too many rules and restrictions create walls for free-spirited artists. Money and ambition are powerful motivators but can’t compete with passion.
The long-fought war between the 2 adversaries (Tobacco and anti-smoking groups) who are always at each other’s throats for money and ideals have something interesting for us to observe. Hope the new entrant – a challenger of bootleggers and preachers, could rise up to their level.
A ritual performed with morning coffee, connects with freedom and open minds. How it became a part of our daily life is still a mystery. It’s a waiting filler, weight & boredom killer, stress reliever, conversation starter, digestion booster and gives you a badass look. Or as per the lines of T.J. Natole –
Smoking doesn’t make a person cool. They allow you to embody your natural coolness in an object outside of yourself. It is a wizard’s wand which can give definition to intagible qualities. Coolness is an inherent characteristic and smoking is a distinguishing quality which makes it obvious.
Believe it or not, above words are trophies won by hard-ass creative marketing teams. In other words, these are some of the associations of cigarettes.
In actual, smoking activates the reward areas of the brain (like Nucleus Accumbens) to release the feel-good chemicals (like dopamine). So a person smokes again & again to replicate the pleasurable effects of dopamine. Some argue that all smokers smoke either to boast a good emotional state or to escape a bad one.
They gather with flashy lighters, enjoy their favorite brands with wily glances and secret whispers. Nothing can stop them. Not even a national emergency or scorching heat. They are everywhere – outside restaurants, banks, and bars solving cosmic puzzles earnestly. What can they be talking about? You want to know badly. But you are a Gaijin without a cigarette.
Things can be bought (Forbes article by Kate Harrison) for significance (“…there’s actually a little Kardashian in most of us”), relationships & success/sense of purpose. And more importantly – ‘PERSPECTIVE’, as Rory Sutherland of Ogilvy said in the below 1-minute clip:-
[Rory Sutherland on Perspective]
From the Ted slides of Mr.Sutherland, “We often forget-
- Things are not what they are; they are what we think they are
- Things are what we compare them to
- Yet we make psychology subordinate to everything else
- Psychological value is often the best kind”
The Advent of Creative Tobacco
Once upon a time, cancerous tobacco was a sacred medicine. Believing the same, Nicot sent leaves and seeds (of tobacco) to Francis I (the king) & his mother to snuff. Suddenly, the headaches were ‘magically cured’. Even our favorite fictional deductionist (the one who lived in 21 B Baker Street) of 19th Century loved it and craved for it!
And hence it was everywhere like any other candy – milky and chocolatey, enticing the living breed to enjoy. At least before the 1950s when TVs, radios & newspapers were the dearest companions of marketers. All it needed was a well-devised mathematical formula to find the value of x (sales) for a given value of y (investments in ads).
Anything was possible and opportunities to pitch were endless with almost no restrictions from the legal gatekeepers.
Campaigns pitched it as a lifestyle product, reinforced its respectability and reinsures the healthfulness. It was a part of normal family life. Targets were almost everyone – women, doctors, nurses, pilots, soldiers, celebs, models, athletes, parents, and even children. Below are some of the best ones:-
- “More Doctors Smoke Camels” – Associating MD with Camel (R.J.Reynolds Cigarette brand).
- “20679 Physicians say Luckies are less irritated” – reassuring the worried public. If a doctor with all his expertise chose to smoke, then it must be safe. Making such ads regularly appeared in medical journals.
- It’s good for your throat:
- “The loudest ‘I do’ a bride ever spoke”
- “It’s Toasted”
- “The filter tip that holds throat irritants in check”
- “Camels agree with my throat”
- “Consider your Adam’s apple”
- “Why did you change to Camel, Linda Darnell”
- “Not a cough in a carload”
- Science Bitc_!:
- “National Smoker Study-Merit Science Works”
- “Viceroy’s got the Deep-weave filter and the taste that’s right”
- “We’re tobacco men…not medicine men – OLD GOLD cures just one thing: the World’s Best Tobacco”
- “No medical war whoops from OLD GOLD”
- “For digestion’s sake-Smoke Camels”
- “Smoke a lucky to feel your best”
- “Enjoy finer filter smoking – Winston”
- “In a kick it’s distance…in a cigarette it’s taste-Chesterfield”
- “Take a pack of Camels to the Fight”
- “They don’t get your wind…athletes say”
- “Eat a chocolate, light an Old Gold…and enjoy both”
- “At 3 more universities Old Golds are voted the best”
- “Buck the system”
- “Rewrite the Rules”
- “Here’s to women who can light their own cigarette”
And then suddenly 2 legendary ideas born – Filters and The Marlboro Man
People felt cheated and market perception began to change when physicians revealed the affair of smoking with cancer in the 1950s. Filters, the brainchild of Boris Aivaz saved the day. With each breath, now smokers inhaled less tar & nicotine. At least that was the pitching. Arguably, compensated by smoking more and hard. However, a new product means more time for in-depth independent studies. But at the time, people bought and authorities agreed.
Later, FTC banned companies to claim health benefits in ads. Brands with their thinking caps came up with many unprecedented exceptionals. Two of them really deserved a standing ovation – “Its Toasted” & “Marlboro Man”. Here is the Mad Men version of Lucky Strikes:-
[Mad Men on Lucky Strikes Problem]
Advertisements are based on happiness. Lucky chose – “…freedom from fear,…billboard on the side of the road that screams with reassurance that whatever you are doing is okay. You are okay” because “It’s TOASTED”. Talking about truth well presented and leaving it to other’s imagination.
Those days, Marlboro was in women (classy wealthy ladies). And increasing health-consciousness among them was alarming. Marlboro saw that Male (filtered) smoking was still popular. Freedom & Adventure became the newly chosen associations, repositioned with COWBOY image. A cowboy was more American, tough, masculine, work outdoors in all kinds of weather and a sex symbol for women. It was capable to target both the genders. The models in leather & jeans, picturing in desolated places gave themselves dominating powers and became fearless adventurers. Smoking was cool once again and people bought the imagery as explained by Rory Sutherland above, resulting in the most successful campaign in the advertising history.
Be it a developed or developing nation, adolescents or adults, east or west, advertisement bans were bad for smoking interests. Studies credit price increase for overall quit ratios. Thailand’s SimSmoke simulation model spoke about the decline in men’s smoking by 61% because of tax increase, and by 22% due to advertising bans. Lawmakers can now argue for such prohibitions and cruel policies to stop cancer and unjustifiable deaths. The crucial ones are:-
- Policies of plain packaging – ban on the use of trademarks, logos and other brand imagery on the packaging. Even the usage of standardized shape, the method of opening, colors, fonts, and size have been governed.
- 181 parties to FCTC are now obligated to ban all online and offline tobacco advertising.
- Restriction on flavored additives
- Warnings and messages on the package “…should be 50% or more of the principal display areas …”. Indians set it at 85%.
- No promotion through coupons & discounts,
- Ban on smoking in public places in most of the countries,
- And can’t advertise online at all.
U.S. signed the WHO FCTC in May 2004 but has not ratified it, yet. Therefore, the terms are not binding on it. FDA, since 2009, (via Center for Tobacco Products) is regulating tobacco’s marketing in the U.S. with the mission – “To protect Americans from tobacco-related death and disease by regulating the manufacture, distribution, and marketing of tobacco products and by educating the public, especially young people, about tobacco products and the dangers their use poses to themselves and others”
Such products are Cigarettes, Cigars, Dissolvable, Hookah Tobacco, Nicotine Gels, Pipe Tobacco, Roll-Your-Own Tobacco, Smokeless Products (Dip, Snuff, Snus, & Chewing Tobacco) and E-Cigs (& vapes, Hookah pens, & other electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems).
Yes, E-cigs too!
Consider the following key interpretation provided by Tobacco Control Legal Consortium for U.S.:-
- Ban on free samples
- No sale with a package of fewer than 20 sticks
- No illegal sales to minors (legal age to puff is 18),
- No outdoor advertising within 1,000 feet of schools & playground,
- No flavors (except Menthol),
- No sponsorships to sports and entertainment events
- Health warnings to cover 50 percent of the front and back of all packages
- Can’t mention FDA approved or certified (However, FDA reviews and approve of all new tobacco products before they can be introduced to the market)
- Limits any outdoor and point-of-sale advertising including audio-visual & spoken words (no music, images or moving images) except in adult-only facilities with black text on white background only. It also applies to publications with a significant teen readership. Also, vending machines and self-service displays are restricted to adult-only facilities.
If you want to dig deep, here is the PDF for the list of publications.
Bypassing & Thwarting – The Answer
Problems give rise to creative solutions in the presence of passion
Tobacco companies were once the ruler of advertising and the same was proven multiple times. They were and still are strong, bold and have balls to send threating & intimidating letters to governments. The hilarious one was when a company with an affiliate of Philip Morris International did it with Irish government (when the country tried to implement plain packaging laws), claiming the laws infringe its trademarks. According to ‘Last Week Tonight’, one of the letters read-
A dance is only meaningful when danced,
so a trademark is only meaningful when used
Here is the well-researched amusing video of John Oliver, bashing the ill practices of Tobacco companies for tactfully protecting their interests:-
[John Oliver on Tobacco #JeffWeCan]
True. Legal teams and marketers deserve a pat on the back for such smart solutions. Digging up a 1993 trade agreement saying Australia couldn’t seize the Hong Kong-based company’s property made the company shift its business to Hong Kong division to make a case against the government. And the seized property in question was trademarks on cigarette packs. Yes, it was the famous case of Australia’s plain packaging win and PMI was required to pay $39 million (Australian government’s legal fees). It’s always a big gamble. Huge enough to deter low GDP economies to act against.
Exploiting pack design is still critical and one of the lobbyists’ hobbies – fighting for downsizing pictorial & text warnings on the pack.
- Painting public perception and sparring court cases with consultants to discredit evidence base of restriction and weaken opposition’s arguments.
- Delay in the implementation with protracted litigation
- Switching to unregulated channels like sponsorships, brand stretching, and point of sale.
- Organizing sponsored parties & events, and encouraging participants to post on social media
- POS is the least regulated channel. Convenience stores, grocery stores, pharmacies, and petrol/gas stations are some of the hot spots.
- Replacing banned terms such as ‘light’ & ‘mild’ with similarly deceptive words (like smooth), fonts, colors & designs.
- Decorating cigarette kiosks with designed colored banners without logos, harnessing strong brand recall.
- Letting stars run their mojo (restricted & limited now), just like below:-
They were spending more money marketing; okay; than a lot of people were spending to prevent it – David Goerlitz, Winston Man
Hard work always pays off. As per FDA’s data for the U.S.:–
- each day they are successfully selling to 2,300 fresh underage candidates
- 90% of adult daily smokers began by age 18
- 20% of high school students are currently using tobacco.
So, targeting youth is important. Everybody realizes the importance of strong brand loyalty in cigarettes. It must be really hard for brands to convert loyalists into switchers later. Juvenescence is being targeted by SMM (Social Media Marketing) under the radar every day.
It is creative for sure and brings results.
After all, that’s what the boss wants but “It’s All Legal Until Get Caught”.
Here, not disclosing a paid advertisement is a violation. And if the endorsement is for smoking then it’s a way big legal trouble. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have explicit policies against even for the disclosed paid ads.
So, how it works?
Personalities with the youthful appearance and followers are selected. Several options like using an influencer who generally promote lifestyle products are also available. A two-year investigation by ‘Campaign for Tobacco-free Kids’ (an American non-profit org) and ‘Netnographica LLC’ (a consumer research and consulting firm) found that social media influencers are trained in taking photos (in such a manner that doesn’t stage advertisement), when & what brands to post and what hashtags to include. 25 billion views are the overall global estimates given by Social media analytics commission of U.S. Launching global campaigns to engage broad audiences and build positive associations is huge if you can see it. Here is the list of big 4s’ country wise social media campaigns:-
In response, ‘Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids’ did fairly well to call their bluff and launched an advocacy campaign – ‘Where There’s Smoke‘ in June 2018. On 27th August 2018, they & 8 others filed a petition to FTC requiring tobacco companies to disclose such social media campaign by adding #Promotion, #Sponsored or #Ad in the content. It’s funny because it would be like telling the law that you are committing a crime. Maybe sarcasm is what they are gunning for.
If you too want to support the cause, go to – Takeapart.org for ready-made infographics and posting links for your Facebook, Twitter & Instagram accounts. If you want to go deep, refer the below mentioned PDF link for a legal action toolkit.
A Recipe of Philosophy and Psychology
Logic Isn’t Enough to Convince
So many published studies disfavor tobacco consumption. But facts are not gospels of truth, their perceptions are. Smart people can always circumvent those facts.
After-all advertising is nothing but a truth well-presented.
But what is the truth? And what makes it the truth?
- Truth is not what majority believe. 51% of a group can be wrong.
- Truth is not how we know but what we know.
- Truth is not what is publicly proved. It can be privately known like a buried treasure location.
But the opposite is convenient for society. Eventually, accepted by the majority and holding the overwhelming power today. Dialetheism had always remained a thesis. It never became a formal system of logic. But here it fits perfectly.
Hence distortion, deception, and confusions are all truth for legal advertising i.e. until publicly proven otherwise. It’s almost impossible to question this definition because of the scarcity law of economics. How often one can bring infinite wrong statements to justice? Hence, the majority’s rule has been given importance. It’s not the truth but the closest one we have got in the existing working system.
Although sometimes a few smart cookies deduce fallacies and demand explanations. But most of the times get crushed, chased, bought &/or ignored.
Remember Mr. Snowden and Assange!
But nonetheless, they are important to keep evil in check. In other words, it is fear which can’t let anyone do whatever. But such cookies are rare and truth can be exploited and mold as per the needs, anytime. Maybe that’s the beauty of it.
Below “Coffee Break”, a youtube channel has explained by targeting industry-funded orchestrated researches:-
Merge it with Rory Sutherland’s ideology. There are two types of ideas:-
- Emotionally driven psychological ideas
- Rational numerical, spreadsheet-driven ideas
Creative persons often need to share ideas with the people holding rational approach, for approval and general acceptance. They have to eventually include feasibility studies and metrics like ROI. Big tobaccos understood this and became students of rational thinking. Gradually, they penetrated the domain of rationals and became the masters of both the worlds.
This doesn’t work or at least didn’t use to, for the flip side. Rationals think logic is its own answer. For them, if numbers add up, going to crazy creative people to come up with something better is illogical. It’s a huge problem. Rationalism’s importance is unquestionable but perception plays the dominant role. The world doesn’t work on numbers. And happiness is not the product of reality. Preachers need to embrace this. Logic isn’t enough to convince.
Interesting Use of Morality
One thing is certain – those filter tips are surely going to put you in the coffin.
You know that right!
It’s the marketers’ job to bring in the element of ‘Willful ignorance’ to vend.
“While I dance I can not judge, I can not hate, I can not separate myself from life. I can only be joyful and whole. This is why I dance” – Hans Bos. And you are among friends relishing the moment with wine and the white magical wand. Suddenly, someone is calling you in the crowd high on whatever. You realized it’s your friend who barely spoke the whole evening. The music is loud. He is trying to say something and you are eager to listen. Then the classic comes – “You know this will kill you”. That’s it. That nagging stupid old fart would be nothing more than an open sore on Satan’s d**k who you wished had died with extremely painful experience ever, stopping him from running his evil-smelling mouth.
The point is, it’s always hard to fight the perceived just. People will always be having a moment every time with “Do Not Disturb” sign. But Charles Bukowski was also right – people should have the freedom to choose for themselves if they are not harming the interests of others.
Then, how can people justify their beloved cause and/or business? How some preachers can make others hear them with sincerity without shoving their ideals?
For this, I would like you to “CHOOSE WISELY”. Just contemplate for a second and recognize which side your fanaticism goes to – Smoking or Anti-smoking? Bootleggers or Preachers? Remember, both could be in it for money, so cool your ethical horses.
I always wonder about Tobacco’s arguments by PRs & lawyers for public and jury. They must be doing something right. They are still standing and are profitable too. I mean, cocaine is banned but not cancer-sticks. What possibly could they say to justify the harm if they are facing the arguments head-on?
I came across one fascinating utilitarian theory of morality. The idea of Jeremy Bentham was that the highest principle of morality (whether personal or political) is to maximize the general welfare or overall balance of pleasure over pain. We are all governed by pain & pleasure. They are our sovereign masters and so any moral system has to take account of them. Therefore, the greatest good for the greatest number, Happiness, and the utility should be maximized. It should be and is the principle for individuals, communities, and legislators. This utilitarian logic often goes with the name of cost-benefit analysis as well. It involves placing a money value (say $) to stand for utility on the various proposals of cost and benefit.
The fun part, it was used by Philip Morris when they presented a self-financed study (based on the cost-benefit analysis) in the court of the Czech Republic in 2000 (when the government proposed to increase the excise tax on smoking) which said –
… the effect of smoking on the public finance balance in the Czech Republic in 1999 was positive, estimated at +5,815 mil CZK.
It means somehow Philip Morris proved that smoking had positive impacts on the society of the Czech Republic and is profitable for the government too. They showed that the government made $147 million in 1999 because of smoking.
Have a look at the screenshot below for the incomes and costs presented. Pay special attention to the incomes part.
Allegedly, the government saved money in terms of health care costs, pensions and housing for the elderly due to premature deaths. Everybody criticized the methodology. But the real reason to scrap it was non-inclusion of other variables. Apparently, the economy could have made millions if those poor souls would still be alive.
Do you think it’s a valid approach from Philip Morris? Come on! You have to give it to them for their attempt.
Okay, it also ignored to take the value of life into account which begs an important question – Can we even assign a monetary value to life?
The balance of pleasure over pain!
And before you say no, look at some similar attempts done in between the late 1800s and early 1900s (1930 maybe). Some nerds tried to estimate the values of certain pains by asking people and taking data. Eg:- how much ($) would you take in exchange for the pain of taking out your tooth.
Think about it. It’s doable.
Now coming to the big picture; marketing by preachers. Cancer-sticks sellers were able to learn their adversary’s language and are getting back to them with morality and numbers. What if social activists do the same? What if they too try to learn from their adversary? Talking to big 4s’ with words like competition, customers, profits and marketing.
Let’s deconstruct this. The industrial revolution made white sticks the most successful consumer product. And therefore something powerful is needed to be called its competitor with godly planners and implementors. A product or service which can stimulate a mental high in non-destructive ways. Something which is accessible by all, handy and, economical and can fight all the positive associations of smoking.
The motive of smoking is to feel good. All self-destructive behaviors are driven by emotions. They give you an immediate emotional reward and this has been achieved in many cases by putting even survival on the line. Professor Martha Burns (neurologist) found that learning something new and exciting activates the same areas of the brain as doing drugs and gambling. Like meeting someone special, listening to a moving speech, exploring the purpose of life. In all such cases of excitement, the brain releases the dopamine and magic happens. It happens when the consciousness expands in general. The day when educational institutes stop preparing warriors for jobs and start helping humans realize their passions, they could go toe-to-toe with smoking giants. The key is PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT.
For your reference – Erica Julson of HealthLine had also shared the 10 natural ways to increase dopamine which mainly includes eating certain foods, forming certain habits and forgo others.
Vaping – An Adjustment or Solution?
Abstinance is not a soultion but an adjustment
The question is whether one can work with therapies, nicotine patches or gums. Later everybody realizes the need for willpower and call it a ‘Quitting’ exercise.
Other Alternatives to old combustible cigarettes are:-
- Water-pipes – hookah or Shisha. The general rule of thumb says an hour session equals 2-3 cigarettes. Yes, it contains tobacco along with other unique toxic chemicals. And please! Water doesn’t purify smoke.
- E-cigarettes, vapes and other devices which converts liquid nicotine (i.e. e-liquid) into aerosol to inhale.
- IQOS – the product by PMI have its own category which heats (not burn) liquid tobacco (not nicotine). It sits between a normal cigarette & an electronic nicotine device. The idea is that aerosol is better than smoke.
The art of Vaping👇
Normally, any smoke is harmful, tobacco kills and nicotine addicts. Hence e-cigs are safer because of no tobacco and smoke but nicotine aerosol. A study by the University of California says it still has some cancer-causing chemicals. But the most interesting of all, smoking is deadly not because of cancer but due to cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. Therefore, vaping can’t be confidently vindicated because long-term studies are still underway.
Allegedly, its safer persona can encourage mortals to do it more, catalyzing towards abomination and dragging innocents with them. It can be a gateway drug and the overall macro-level effects can be negative (as per the research published by PLOS ONE based on a U.S. population sample). Remember the cost-benefit utilitarian theory of morality?
And surprise surprise,
there are also studies proving otherwise.
Who cares about the unknown in marketing,
when even known can be manipulated.
Therefore, it is an adjustment now with the potential of a permanent solution i.e. if publicly proven.
Regulators (of USA) have a big heart towards it (eg: no flavor bans) to enable opportunities for everybody coupled with freedom of expression but small enough to bind free movement.
‘Smoke Screen‘ (Verge article of Nov 2017) observed the public’s favorable perception when Soneji (a professor who studied the effect on public health due to the gap in tobacco regulation) was booed for mentioning the potential risks of vaping at the first US e-cigarette summit in 2017. Online forums are filled with ex-smokers’ health improvement stories crediting vapors.
Common reward programs of American Vape shops are trying their hardest to work in the narrow confines of the law. Lobbyists are their angels and lingering stigma is their enemy. This is the legacy of Tobacco and its controversial marketing history.
Consider the case of January 2017, when Apple rejected the POTV’s app (Planet Of The Vapes). After the objection by POTV, Apple suddenly changed their policy to include nicotine content in their rejection list in addition to tobacco. (Note:- Vaporizers contain Nicotine, not tobacco. Nicotine is not tobacco but a product of it).
When it comes to lobbying and perception changer, ‘A Billion Lives’ documentary comes to mind which strongly argue against the bootleggers (the tobacco business and government) and preachers (anti-smoking groups) for selfishly promoting their money agenda. Substitutes like nicotine gums and patches are all from preachers and the governments get huge revenues from cigarette sales taxes. Some governments have their own tobacco company like China and hence allegedly, it is a perfect system for them. On one hand, World stats of smoking are daunting. On the other hand, we have an opportunity to save all of it – ‘A billion lives’ directed and produced by Mr. Aaron Biebert 👇👇 Below is the 2-minute gist of it. (By the way, it has 9.0 rating from IMDB)👇👇
Who’s the fastest decacorn in the market right now?
‘JUUL’ (an e-cigarette company) holds the crown. It has surpassed Facebook 4 times in terms of speed and currently valued at $15 billion dollars in just around 10 months.
Major buyers are in the age of 18-24 which is under FDA rules.
I don’t know why can’t I find a Philip Morris hookah anywhere. Maybe the laws are not that lax as I thought or maybe it’s an unnoticed opportunity by the sellers. But they are sure in the talks of buying some stake in ‘Juul’ despite having their own IQOS.
British Tobacco company owned the only approved (from Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency) Vape product ‘eVoke’. This could allow general practitioners to prescribe it.
Imperial Tobacco Group has one of those too – BluNation.
Whether e-solutions are helpful or not is still a riddle for me. Overwhelming favorable quality arguments and such a tempting solution are tainting my judgment. I want to trust it to address all the issues of ethics, choice and of course health. And also because abstinence is not the solution but an adjustment which majority is not willing and able to accept even on their deathbeds. I also have faith that it would bring back those glorious days of creativity. Some are saying it is following the same path and will have the same fate as our old traditional combustible tobacco sticks. But some are counting on their pessimistic thoughts.