An Ad-erage Day in the Life of a Kid

There goes his radio alarm, with his favorite station blaring promotions for VIrginia Slims Tennis or Marlboro Racing.

His mother sets out the cereal box--you know, the "Kellogg's Corn Flakes Winston Cup Commemorative" edition, with cigarette brand name "Winston" splashed on every side, and nary a health warning in sight. When his own mom advertises cigarettes to him with his corn flakes, he's got to wonder--geez, how bad can they be?

At the bus shelter, he sits under the Marlboro Man poster. On the bus, he rides past billboard after billboard hawking cigarettes. There are warnings on the billboards--can you see? It's that little white band at the bottom, printed in an unreadable font and style. The industry's policy is that they want no billboards within 500 feet of a school. That's the distance at which the warning becomes completely illegible.

Once at school, a friend shows off his Kool baseball cap, and the neat lighter he just got for "Camel Cash." Another got ahold of a "Newport Pleasure" t-shirt. One kid even has a Marlboro Panasonic disc player! Yeah, you're supposed to be 21 to get them (giggle-giggle).

After school, a stop by the convenience store--you can't even see inside the store, there are so many tobacco posters littering the windows. Once inside, it's a veritable deluge of promotional materials, with the cigarettes right out front for the picking--next to the candy bars.

He picks up a Rolling Stone, where all the glittering promotional prizes are presented in luscious color, to be had for a few cigarette pack coupons, and the little white lie of averring he's 21. (He knows they don't check too hard.)

At home, he catches a little baseball, and watches a thrilling home run go right over the Marlboro sign (seems that Marlboro sign is situatied where almost every home run is near it. In other sports, the sign always seems to be right by the clock.).

Then it's time for his dad to take him to the doctor's for a checkup. On the way they stop for gas, and he's sent inside to pay--he almost has to snake his hand over the counter past all the cigarette promotionals to give the clerk the money. He's got to figure the oil companies don't have a problem with cigarettes.

In the doctor's waiting room, the mainstream magazines like Time or Vanity Fair feature more cigarette ads on their back covers. How bad could cigarettes be if even a doctor is advertising them in his own office?

On the way back home, they stop by for a few things at the supermarket--Grand Union, or Sloan's here in New York City. Dad unconsciously picks up a Marlboro hand-basket. Hey, if Dad can act as a walking human billboard for them, how bad can they be?

They stop for a prescription. At McKay's Drug Stores or Love's Pharmacies here in New York City, they have a Pharmacist in back and a Harm-assist in front--Joe Camel himself feigning cool in a huge display over the cashier line. These are the people who are supposed to be knowledgeable about your health. If cigarettes are being so heavily promoted even here--hey, really, how bad could they be?

Home to watch TV. Let's see, what's on, where's that TV Guide. Ah, here we are, right past the "Misty" ad--"Superman II." That's the one--now on TV all the time--where Superman crashes spectacularly into the side of a Marlboro-emblazoned truck. Or maybe he'll watch tough-guy Sylvester Stallone in a movie hawking Brown & Williamson cigarettes, just as Sly agreed to do for $500,000. Or maybe he'll watch some car racing like the Grand Prix, where Al Unsser Jr. whizzes his "Marlboro" car by the cameras a documented 39,000 times in each race. You're 9 years old and you like car racing? Then you'd better like cigarettes, 'cause Al Unsser Jr. doesn't drive the Sunkist Orange Juice car.

He's up a little late, but maybe he'll catch that cool David Letterman. In the introductory montage, there's Joe Camel winking at him. And during Letterman's monologue, you can clearly see that the red-and-black patch in the background is a classic Marlboro ad.

There is no wonder why kid smoking is skyrocketing. Admittedly, I've condensed a lot into one day, but this is more than made up for by the fact that I listed each incident only _once_, whereas most occur over and over and over again, day after day after day, ad nauseam.

Kids today are faced with a daily, mind-numbing, spirit-debilitating, reality-bending, relentless onslaught of tobacco ads and presentation of tobacco use as a nearly universal, if not cool activity. Not hard to see why more 6 year olds recognize Joe Camel than Mickey Mouse.

And never, ever underestimate the power of ubiquity. The ads are everywhere, all the time, and ubiquity buys _acceptance_. Why go against the stream? Why make trouble by objecting? Everyone else seems to accept it.

And who's this "everyone else"? Who seems to be telling a kid smoking's ok, or even cool? Major corporations like Panasonic and Kellogg's, the local mom-and-pop candy store, the supermarket, the pharmacy, the gas station, the bus company, his doctor, his favorite sports figures, his movie idols, and even his own mother and father. These things do not go unnoticed.

It seems nobody in the world has a problem with cigarettes except a few teachers. Then what's the big deal??

That acceptance--that co-option of vast segments of society into the hawking of cigarettes--is what is being bought today, with $6 billion a year in advertising and promotion.

And no once-a-month smoking education class or a few newspaper articles stands a snowball's chance in hell against it.

  • 1996 Gene Borio, Tobacco BBS (212-982-4645). WebPage: Tobacco BBS material may be reprinted in any non-commercial venue if accompanied by this credit

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