Smoking is a divisive issue and as a smoker I am quite obviously biased. Since the introduction of smoking bans around the world the opinions of smokers on this topic have little or no currency. This is no real surprise considering my viewpoint is tainted by yellowing nicotine stains, and when the topic comes up with my friends I try to stay out of the way. As Britain continues to in act stronger laws on the sale of cigarettes it is quite odd to see adverts for many brands appear on giant billboards all over Germany. Many street corners still have vending machines and most clubs still have large indoor smoking areas. At first I thought this was a refreshing change but now I live here I have begun to question whether this is really the case.
When the smoking ban was originally introduced in Britain it was welcomed and bemoaned in what felt like equal measure. At the time it was just another law against smokers to be added to those banning advertising and many other aspects of one of my favourite indulgences. It was because I, like many of my friends, smoked that I was so set against it, and if you had known me then I would have bored you with claims that the government was prejudiced etc, etc. What’s more my more naive past self would have argued that people are not stupid and if they want to smoke they will, regardless of any bans especially on advertising. What I know now is that advertising really has an affect on people. ‘Well obviously’ you might say but back then I had a stronger belief in the general intelligence of people, whereas now I am perhaps more cynical.
In Germany late last year adverts began to appear in what felt like every conceivable place along my commute to work. A simple white background and bold black font declared MAYBE. Juxtaposed near these adverts were similar signs with the bold font that read
MAYBE. On closer inspection all these signs gave away were that it was for a cigarette company, this was given away by the small print warning that could only be seen up close. After a few weeks these same sign were then replaced with achingly cool looking hipsters pictured in moments of indecision. One that stood out for me was a man stood backstage, next to a curtain peering out at what looked like a sell out crowd, obviously unsure whether to take a leap of faith. It turned out this was Marlboros new multimillion dollar exercise in cancer inducing chic. It was at this point that I began to notice how many more people appeared to be smoking that brand, it was like my own personal episode of the Twilight Zone. With every turn there was another Marlboros smoker, leering out at me, gurning with a sense of über cool satisfaction. It was only when I saw a group of kids, who could only have been about twelve, smoking these symbols of immense twattery that I longed for the good old British nanny state.
Then again perhaps Germany has the right idea in some respects. Most clubs here have smoking areas of varying size, and this is possibly the most ingenious way of allowing the penny to drop for smokers. The fun of smoking quickly evaporates when your standing in a small room with twenty to thirty other people smoking. The air is thick, as you would expect, but it’s when your eyes start to water because of the fumes that smoking begins to look less and less attractive. Then you begin to realise everyone has a hacking cough, that sort of kills the mood. When you leave you find that your carrying the smell of all those other smokers with you as well. What governments should do is allow all bars and clubs to have one of these areas, because there is no better anti smoking advert than a load of people leaving a smoking room hacking and coughing, tears streaming down their faces and smelling like an over flowing ashtray.