I would still like to do a longer piece sometime on Mr. Butts, the great anti-tobacco character that Garry Trudeau invented 20 or 30 years ago in Doonesbury.
Trudeau brought Mr. Butts out of the closet Sunday for a great cartoon on the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement. One of the great frustration with the $280 billion settlement is that everyone assumed the money being paid out to the states (to offset Medicaid and other health care costs generated by tobacco use) would go toward anti-tobacco education. Well, unfortunately, there was nothing in the agreement mandating that the money had to go to anti-tobacco education. A fair chunk of it did get spent for that use initially, but eventually, more and more states figured out they could send it however they wanted.
Eventually, the money got used as a catch-all windfall — A way for states to increase their budgets while avoiding increasing property taxes, etc. I’m not completely down on the 1998 MSA because some good did come out of, but this was a huge lost opportunity.
Anyway, Trudeau, through tobacco spokesman Mr. Butts, points out to the Sunday comics readers that only 1.9 percent of the MSA settlement dollars has been spent on anti-tobacco education. Good for Trudeau for publicizing this and keeping up his long fight against Big Tobacco.
I found this ad campaign absolutely fantastic from the consistently amazing Truth campaign (paid for by the American Legacy Foundation, which comes from Master Settlement Agreement funds — the tobacco industry itself pays for these ads, which has at times really pissed it off.).
It’s a series of images of young Hollywood actors puffing away with the meme “Unpaid Tobacco Spokesman” to creep shame these actors into realizing they’re setting a lame example for kids. They don’t look hip with a cigarette hanging out of their mouth, they don’t look cool, they just look stupid. The ad ends with “They’re the new face of Big Tobacco, and they don’t even know it.”
The ads are part of the Truth.org group’s “Finish it!” campaign, meaning the finish line to stamping out teen smoking is within site.
Included are the guy from Twilight … Edward something, Kristen Stewart, Mary-Kate Olson, Orlando Bloom (Ok, he’s 37, not so young), Chris Brown, Rihanna, Emma Roberts, etc. Young actors or singers. I even saw a flash of Keifer Sutherland in this ad.
Well, I don’t know about an absolute like that, I suspect we’ll never completely stamp it out, but the latest statistics are stunning. According to the Legacy Foundation, the teen smoking rate today is 9 percent, compared to 23 percent 15 years ago. (I know it’s been dropping dramatically, but 9 percent seems really low — according to the Centers for Disease Control, that rate was 14 percent in 2012.)
The AJA article points out that teens often follow what celebrities are doing on social media and the Truth campaign takes that phenomena and turns it on its head.
In nonprofit meetings across the country, I have no doubt that starry-eyed directors are telling their employees to come up with something that will go viral. The ice bucket challenge to support a cure for ALS was a moon shot, a one-in-a-million public relations hit that set a new standard for nonprofit outreach. Celebrities, politicians and a lot of people in your Facebook feed posted videos of themselves dumping bucketfuls of ice water on their heads, and a portion of them went on to learn about ALS and donate money for research. (The Truth campaign) It was a triumph of creativity and conformity at the same time.
What’s awesome about this Truth campaign is that it was Hollywood for decades and decades that for reasons that to this day mystify me, became the biggest FREE unofficial marketing force for cigarette use throughout much of the 20th century. Countless movies beginning in the 1930s showed smoking as being either tough, suave or cool, and this continued well after the 1964 Surgeon General report … and it was all for free. The tobacco industry didn’t pay a nickel for all that free advertising over the couse of decades. Not … a … nickel. Hard to believe. Big Tobacco didn’t start paying for product placement in movies until Superman II in 1980 and the MSA agreement in 1998 brought that to a halt, and yet smoking in movies actually went UP over the next decade.
Why? Because Hollywood is still stuck with some weird fixation that somehow smoking is cool, hip and suave (the music industry is much the same). They’re still stuck in the 1940s. Well, Humphrey Bogart, John Wayne and countless other stars from Hollywood’s Golden Age, died of cancer caused by their smoking. Only when studios were threatened with R ratings for depicting smoking in movies did studios really make the effort to curb smoking in movies.
The AJA article does acknowledge that one major factor for the rate of teen smoking dropping, is the meteoric rise in the use of e-cigs among teens. So, it might be roughly the same number of kids still using nicotine products. That’s the down side of these numbers.
Anyway, what’s awesome about the Truth campaign is that it’s helped change the playing field — where once smoking was cool and hip, now it’s seen as stupid. Years ago, Hollywood actors were the icons of making cigarettes cool, now those same techniques are being used to make entertainers look stupid for smoking.
The AJA article:
Reducing teen smoking is no doubt a worthy goal, and the Legacy Foundation has done a better job than most nonprofits getting its message to the people who need to hear it. The foundation received its last major settlement check in 2003 but made it last through prudent financial management. It has successfully undone much of the tobacco industry’s harmful misinformation and it did it in 15 years with rhetoric instead of punishment. Teen smokers can blame Truth when their friends hassle them for lighting up, and the organization deserves credit for that.
As an aside, I would be DYING to know what some of these celebrities think about being featured in this ad. I doubt very many of them are happy about it.
Good news. According to new figure from the Centers for Disease Control, the smoking rate for teens has dropped to 15.7 percent, the lowest in 22 years that the National Youth Risk Surveys have been tracking the smoking rate.
The high point (or low point depending upon your perspective) of teen smoking rates was in 1997 at an astounding 36.4 percent. In 1998, the rate began dropping, in one year to 34.8 percent. Why? One big reason. The much-maligned Master Settlement Agreement.
I’m the first guy to say the MSA didn’t do nearly as much as it should’ve, nor as much as we all thought it was going to do when it was announced. The biggest problem is not nearly enough money was earmarked for tobacco education, but one of the good things that came out of that agreement was that it killed Joe Camel.
Joe Camel and other cartoon characters promoting tobacco products were banned by the 1998 MSA. It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, but check this out — teen smoking rates by year: 2001, 28.5 percent; 2003, 21.9 percent; 2005, 23 percent (about the time tobacco education funds started getting cut); 2007, 20.0 percent; 2009, 19.5 percent; 2011, 18.1 percent; 2013, 15.7.
A steady decline, with one blip in 2005, since Joe Camel was killed off. Now, the teen smoking rate is less than half it was 22 years ago. This is how we’re really going to win, not with regulations, but with education. Smoking is no longer seen as being cool and hip by a lot of teens today — at least 84.3 percent, and that has been through education.
One concern I do have is that perhaps one of the reasons the teen smoking rate has dropped so dramatically is because more kids today are using e-cigs. No data to back that up … but a bad feeling I have. While e-cigs are not as bad as cigarettes, nicotine is nicotine, addictive as crap, no matter what the delivery system.