Thursday, February 24, 2011

Big tobacco versus big brother

I don't like either side in this fight.

It's pretty clear the tobacco companies lied for years about what they knew and when they knew it. Smoking is harmful, causes cancer and his highly addictive. Done.

Now in a settlement with the Justice Department, the government wants the tobacco companies to run advertising featuring 14 statements, including these:

A federal court is requiring tobacco companies to tell the truth about cigarette smoking. Here's the truth: Smoking kills 1,200 Americans. Every day.

We falsely marketed low tar and light cigarettes as less harmful than regular cigarettes to keep people smoking and sustain our profits.

We told Congress under oath that we believed nicotine is not addictive. We told you that smoking is not an addiction and all it takes to quit is willpower. Here's the truth: Smoking is very addictive. And it's not easy to quit.

Two comments on these:

First, who created these statements and has it been determined that just including these in marketing communications will actually change behavior?

Advertising isn't only about words and rational arguments. Changing behaviors requires something more. That's why most advertising fails. Most advertising is targeted at our rational mind using functional benefits. I don't think there's anyone in America who doesn't know smoking is bad for you. Choosing to smoke is not a rational decision and you can't change that behavior with rational arguments.

Second, the last time I checked, cigarettes were a legal product. Now you can argue whether or not they should be, as they are the only product sold legally in America that when used as intended will kill the consumer, but if you really want to get rid of smoking, ban cigarettes.

Trying to engineer its demise through manipulating advertising and other communications may seem like the easy way out, but it's a waste of time and money because it will never convince everyone to kick the habit.

Our government has been using this strategy since the late sixties and people are still buying coffin nails.

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