Death Is Art

George Bush gets too much bad press you know. Blair too. Even Stalin and Hitler might feel they are a bit hard done by in history books. What about people like Michael E. Szymanczyk and Daniel M. Delen? Where’s the balance? These two are top of the tree in an industry that successfully achieves a holocaust a year. Well almost. What’s another couple of hundred thousand between friends….

This does seem to be taking something of a tangent away from Mexico, but let me explain. When I was back in the UK, I worked in retail. I managed petrol stations, which of course, sell cigarettes. The way they were marketed changed over the years, thanks to government legislation. First of all they banned the collectors cards that were put into packets. General advertising was next to be banished, completing the ban on television advertising of years before.  Then they  forced manufacturers to put large You Will Die A Horrible Death From A Multitude Of Nasty Tobacco Related Diseases type messages on the packets.

Next came the vocab the cigarette companies used. Words such as Mild, Extra, Ultra and Lights were out. Smokers had to buy according to the colour of the packet. And just before I left the UK for Mexico, the last refuge of the visible tobacco branding campaigns was taken from them too – the header unit of the cigarette gantry in stores. Since I left, the packets have also had grisly pictures added for further effect.

Has any of this worked? Well taxing the product did more to get people to quit. Raise prices, and some weak willed smokers will fall by the wayside. Providing you don’t increase prices so much that you stimulate the creation of a tobacco smuggling industry that actually then decreases the average price of a cigarette – congratulations to Mr Brown on that masterstoke. But still, making cigarettes appealing and ‘cool’ can’t be considered a good thing. Because, aimed at kids or not, it will appeal to them. This generation of smokers might be a lost cause, but no need to grab the next generation.

Unless you are a cigarette manufacturer. In which case the next generation, and the one after that, is the exact market you’re going for. Which brings me back to Mexico. What is considered good, responsible practice in Europe doesn’t apply legally to the rest of the world. A good, responsible company wouldn’t need to be legally bound though to put those ideas into practice to do so, though. Would it? Yes it would. Cigarette art is alive and well in Mexico. Cool new packet designs, gimmicky boxes and other eye catching ‘cool’ is put to good use. Yesterday I bought the special, and limited, edition Winter Warmer Camel cigarettes with their cool side slide opening carton. Because yes, despite my apparent anti smoking stance, I am a packet a day man.

Cigarette art is cool though, there’s no getting away from that. But when your product is a packet of death, you do perhaps need to put a little extra time, effort and money into the branding.  I regularly look out for cool old tobacco art products in antique markets. It’s all just cool. But the fact remains, The good sirs at RJ Reynolds, Altria (aka Philip Morris) and others are still taking advantage of the law to entrap Mexican and other people elsewhere into their habit of choice.

I know, they’d disagree. They’d offer excuses of choice and possibly even a choice ‘scientific’ document thats shows tobacco to be completely harmless. Which I’d give the same credence as I do Fox News reporters who claim Iraq is a great success, the Holocaust deniers who insist the 6 million disappeared Jews are fine and well, and the 21st century Russian historians who are repainting the rule of Uncle Joe as a golden era.

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  • I wonder if all those dire warnings and gristly pictures aren’t going to make the product especially appealing to teenaged boys.

    Here in the USA they are still allowed to do quite a lot compared to the UK.

    Saludos,

    Kim G
    Boston, MA

    • For UK, see EU. The laws regards tobacco are universal now I believe. We did lag behind for a while with some of our more fringe sports, such as snooker, dependent on tobacco sponsorship. It seemed so appropriate too. The Embassy World Snooker Championship played out by a bunch of beer swilling, chain smoking ‘athletes’. How times have changed…

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