Monday, February 25, 2008

Smoke If Ya Got 'Em.

Last Monday, the 18th, The New York Department of Health put a full page ad in the Times about smoking in the movies, directly stating that it is apparently the responsibility of movie studios to prevent kids from smoking. Strange, I thought it was to make entertaining movies. Ah well.

I've read through as much of the data as I can, and I must admit, it's hard to deny that much of the evidence is pretty compelling. Still, none of the research I saw answered one question, whether there was a direct causal link of any real strength. Especially of a sufficient strength to warrant flipping out to such a degree as a full-page Times ad. I frankly think this is all the classic old parents thinking new media is destroying the youth of American. Comics, television, movies, video games, it's all the same thing.

And much as then, many of these studies get close, but never close enough to saying that "we showed these kids this movie and they started smoking." They never find that smoking gun, and in that case, I always defer to the proclivities of the subject. The studies only ever ask whether the kids saw certain movies or not. I find it not only possible, but likely that kids with extant characteristics drove them to both watch movies with smoking, and then smoke, themselves.

And not even involved with the methodology, but the letter, which can be viewed here, said that movies are "the single most powerful pro-tobacco influence on children today." That's wrong even by their own website. Yes, according to there data it had a strong effect on children with non-smoking parents, but far and away, the strongest influence was the smoking habits of the parents. For the last three categories of viewing, the number of movies watched had zero effect on the smoking habits of the children.
In general, the letter makes sweeping declarations about the subject that are comically unwarranted by the research. Even the researchers themselves only use the data the say that "this finding suggests that the process which leads children to initiate smoking begins much earlier than adolescence. Viewing smoking in the movies may influence the decision to smoke in more than a third of children." May? That's the best you've got? May? I'm sorry, you better have something a whole shit-load better than 'may' before you start telling the movie industry to start integrating government-sponsored propaganda into its films. I think it's obvious that the greatest threat to children does not come from movies, but from poor, ignorant, or uninformed parents. I've got nothing against education campaigns to get people to quit, (as long as they actually work) but running around legislating everything we can is not freedom, it's not American, and it's not smart. You just end up with lots of poorly written laws, drawn in haste to get some politician onto a soapbox.

In the same issue, there was an Op-Ed piece, from one of the nameless Op-Ed department typewriter biscuits, about the "Global Threat" of tobacco. I knew I was going to dislike this article just from the title. Basic thrust, poor countries smoke a whole fuck-load, which is one order of magnitude greater than a shit-load, and the answer is government bans on the sale, advertisement, promotion, and big, scary pictures on the packages. As Dennis Leary once said, "It doesn't matter how big the warnings on the cigarettes are; you could have a black pack, with a skull and crossbones on the front, called TUMORS, and smokers would be around the block going, 'I can't wait to get my hands on these fucking things! I bet ya get a tumor as soon as you light up!'"

I find it very easy to believe the tobacco industry's claim of converting people from local brands. They don't need to recruit new people. The local culture is doing that all by itself. Even in Western countries, there's no need to recruit people. Just put your product up for sale, give it a cool name, and extant addicts will be happy to puff your particular brand. Japan, for example; 50% of men smoke. In China, it's even higher. In African countries, where the article specifically mentions, everyone already smokes! Now, the actual data is problematic to interpret because it says that less than a third of men actually smoke in Africa, but that includes people so poor that they can't afford cigarettes. Those that can afford appear to have a much higher incidence. I'm tired of the ridiculous vilification of the tobacco industry. They're a business, they make a product and they try to get people to want it. That's the way this works. If the government wants to stop things, stop people from wanting it. Don't blame the companies, and don't blame the governments of those pooooor, uneducated savages down in Africa. Us enlightened white people don't know everything.

Before you get into a tizzy, I'm against smoking. I hate it. Can't stand it. I've never smoked. It's my single biggest turn-off in women. I flat-out avoid smokers. BUT, and here's a big but, that's my choice. I do not feel the need to blame other people when somebody chooses to start smoking. I do not demand that I can eat or go anywhere free of someone else's smokes. If a restaurant wants to cater to smokers, more power to them. If they want my business, they'll simply have to cater to me, as well, in some way. But no, in this country we pass absurd laws telling people how to run their businesses. Oh, but it's for their own good. Right. No, it's for the good of the grand-standing politician who rode the controversy into another term.

I want to see smoking eradicated, and I think it will be. It's deadly, terrible, and smelly. But if someone chooses to smoke, then they should be allowed to. They have to freedom to light up, just as I have the freedom to get up, and leave. It's not that hard.

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