New anti-smoking campaign unfair to vilified tobacco execs

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Being a smoker is a problem. It’s bad for your health and it endangers the health of the people around you. Smoking leads to cancer, heart disease, lung damage, and other horrible diseases.

The cost of treating these illnesses is astronomical. What is more important, and perhaps more dangerous than these problems, is how addictive a cigarette’s chemicals really are.

Adults should have the freedom to smoke cigarettes if they want to take these risks. What should not be allowed, however, is the flagrant marketing of cigarettes to children, who are unable to make fully informed decisions.

Even with this in mind, the tobacco industry continues to sell its product. Though it is simply running a business to meet the demands of its customers, the tobacco industry needs to sell their product to more people than just its current customer base. Therefore, the tobacco industry wants to lure new smokers, preferably young smokers, as it is unlikely that someone older than 21 will start smoking or become addicted.

As a way to combat these efforts, the American Legacy Foundation, through its “truth” youth smoking prevention campaign, has funded a series of anti-smoking advertisements, nicknamed “the truth ads.” However, the advertisements have recently begun to attack the tobacco industry itself. It is in this move that I believe the campaign has gone too far.

I have no problem with advertisements that encourage people to stop smoking. Advertisements that educate about such an unhealthy habit are necessary if such a powerfully addictive poison is going to be made available for sale and consumption.

However, the “truth” advertising campaign has turned into an attack on tobacco companies. New elements of the advertising campaign, a satirical “not funny because it’s true” fake sitcom called “Fair Enough!” portrays the corporate heads of tobacco companies as evil men and women, plotting the demise of our society. The campaign portrays tobacco companies as preying on the ignorance of society, even encouraging five-year-old children to light up.

This advertising campaign has confused what it means for a product to be bad, with what it means for the makers of the product to be bad. The campaign is using the emotional response they expect to elicit from viewers — “They tricked us!” — to make people channel their anger into a hatred for smoking. But this anti-smoking methodology is more insulting then helpful.

Today’s tobacco companies are nothing like the tobacco companies the “truth” advertising campaign says they are. Tobacco companies can no longer lie about the contents of their product. They are forced to plaster huge warning signs all over every package of cigarettes they sell to inform the consumer of the product’s dangers.

I can only imagine the outrage if these types of warnings had to be posted on all products that may, over time, be harmful to a person’s health. Though the effects of eating five double bacon cheeseburgers may be just as harmful as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, it seems inconsistent and unfair to demand that tobacco companies advertise all of the harmful effects of smoking, and not demand the same of the fast food industry.

“Truth” advertisements also suggest big tobacco is trying to recruit children into become life-long users of its product. However, in the case of Phillip Morris, this isn’t true. Phillip Morris started the “We Card” program, encouraging liquor stores and gas stations to ask for the ID of everyone who appears to be under the age of 25 before they purchase cigarettes. Also, Phillip Morris frequently promotes its website, which contains information on the dangers of smoking, and advice about how to quit.

Although tobacco companies do sell a product that is undeniably harmful to people’s health, that doesn’t change the fact that they are selling a product for which there is still a tremendously high demand. This new advertising campaign seems to want to make the responsibility of Americans’ smoking problem that of the tobacco companies. However, this seems unfair. Product manufacturers cannot reasonably be expected to abandon a legal source of profit because the product is dangerous to a group of people who voluntarily use the product anyway. People enjoy smoking, and even though they wouldn’t be able to purchase cigarettes if they weren’t produced, that doesn’t mean the demand for them would vanish.

While I commend this advertising campaign for trying to educate people and encourage them to stop smoking, its creators should have continued to promote personal responsibility instead. Making tobacco executives look like bad people for legally selling a product places unfair blame and the burden of responsibility on them. What is more insulting is that this responsibility is not placed on any other industry.

Jes Bohn is a senior philosophy major and president of the Student Philosophy Society.