Can measures designed to reduce smoking and drinking also work against overeating? These posts have brought up many questions. One of the big ones is teasing out the differences between things that can be done, and things that should be done.
In most places around the world, it is not that difficult to get hold of cigarettes, alcohol, or junk food. In fact, in some places the first two are easier to obtain than food of any kind. Local culture and laws will reflect how determined the leaders are to stand between the people and whatever dangerous and damaging substances they want.
Culture and laws are external, but much of the public attitude toward anything categorized as a vice is formed by the notions that advertising has injected into people’s minds. Advertising brainwashes people into believing that they cannot possibly be having a good time unless they have an alcoholic beverage in one hand, a cigarette in the other, and a plate of nachos in front of them.
Prying harmful ideas out of people heads is a task for which no government is equipped unless it employs methods that are generally disapproved of, like drugging or torture. The decent thing to do is use persuasion, and advertisers of commercial products are so much better at it than bureaucrats are.
One of the illustrations we borrowed for this post is a vintage cigarette advertisement. A doctor’s pink-cheeked face bears an expression usually reserved for the uneventful delivery of a baby who was not expected to make it. But this beaming smile is bestowed upon a pack of smokes. The copy reads, “20,679 Physicians say ‘Luckies are less irritating.'” Oh, really? Not 20,680?
No, the exact, un-rounded-off figure is meant to inspire trust and confidence. The small print does not add any information, like how many doctors might have said “Hell no, Luckies irritate like a pile of burning tires.” But each of them — we are not told how many — received a carton of Lucky Strikes.
This 1930 advertisement was in fact the first to portray a doctor, but not the last. But while images of real celebrities, including athletes, were used in some ads, all the doctors were fictitious, because any real physician who endorsed any product would quite possibly have lost his or her license. These ads even appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association and similar publications.
In 1964, the Surgeon General’s “Report on Smoking and Health” attracted massive attention partly because the media landscape was so limited and easily manipulated. Currently, people have many information channels to turn to, each one staffed with professionals and stuffed with agendas. It is very difficult to get the American public “on the same page” about anything.
In 1998, the Master Settlement Agreement between the states (most of them) and the tobacco industry tried hard to cause meaningful change. As usual, greed motivated the corporations to find workarounds before the new rules even had a chance to take effect, and Hollywood studios used every inch of wiggle room to circumvent them.
It was fortunate that tobacco was given the opportunity to “ruin” doctors as commercial dupes and stooges, before the food industry even had the chance to get hold of them.
Your responses and feedback are welcome!