Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Huffing and Puffing

I see from the front page of The Irish Times that the Government is planning on introducing plain packaging for cigarettes. This bothers me. I've never so much as taken a puff on a cigarette in my entire life, but I believe that the campaign against smoking has become excessive and hysterical.

That's not the main reason for my irritation, however. It's the fact that the two brands of advertising which had most going for them-- alcohol and tobacco advertising-- are being more and more suppressed, while the crassest and ugliest forms of advertising are allowed to proliferate simply because the products advertised are, supposedly, less detrimental to the public good.

Tobacco advertising was often highly tasteful and artistic. I remember, in college, writing an assignment about a magazine ad which showed an enormous packet of cigarettes floating in a park pond, while the usual strollers and dog-walkers passed by and stared at it with mild interest. It doesn't sound like a promising advertisement but it was surprisingly pleasing to the eye, and the captured a sedate 'morning in the park' atmosphere very skilfully. And the surrealism, instead of seeming bizarre and grating, was nicely done, almost like a Magritte painting. It all had a sepia-golden glow about it.

And, in general, tobacco advertising aimed for an image of refinement and distinction that gave rise to advertisements with rich colours, reflective atmospheres, and mellow imagery. There was rarely anything flashy or loud about it.

Cigarette packets, as well, are usually pleasing and restful to the eye. You'd think that would be the case with all packaging, which is after all intended to make us buy stuff. But it's not. (Or, rather, sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't. I like walking down the tea and coffee aisle in the supermarket, since the packaging of those products is so restrained and warm and cosy-looking, usually conveying an idyll of domesticity.) But a lot of packaging is hideous-- eye-bruising colours, cartoony pictures, no attempt even made at artistry or pleasantness.

And this is just packaging. TV and radio ads are often offensively crass and tacky. Why are betting shops allowed to advertise if tobacco manufacturers are forbidden? At least you get something if you buy cigarettes, or alcohol. Betting shops encourage people to almost literally throw away money. How is that socially desirable? And their advertising is much, much worse than cigarette and drink advertising.

Why is car advertising seen as morally unproblematic? How many people are killed in car crashes a year, and how many people are killed indirectly by the sedate lifestyle that driving encourages? Car ads usually appeal in the most vulgar and silly way to the most squalid sort of aspirations-- the desire for a status symbol, in particular. Car ads are odious.

All in all, why is advertising not considered more of a matter of public interest, and why do we confine our concern to the products advertised? A smoker is only harming himself, or (at most) those in his immediate vicinity. But we all suffer from tasteless and obtrusive advertising. I am not ant-advertising, but I think it deserves to be more of a matter for public debate.


  1. We do all suffer from tasteless and obtrusive advertising--billboards, etc. I do have AdBlock on my Internet browser, and I wish I could do the same in other parts of my life.
    My flat mate just brought a TV into the house. So many crass commercials--mostly (because of local demographics?) for pharmaceuticals and medical devices for the elderly. I don't understand how or why it can be in the public interest to have direct marketing of prescription drugs (or pocket catheters, for goodness' sake). Surely a doctor would write the prescription if and when some drug became necessary? And surely it doesn't help us to hear the same commercials every few minutes detailing embarrassing symptoms in cheerful tones--and rushing through the long lists of side effects, as mandated. How is this in the public interest? Not to mention that the ads show utterly no originality or artistic treatment--always the same bright colors, forced smiles, and cheery-conversation-among-a-small-group-of-friends, cutaway to even cheerier person-in-lab-coat.

  2. And they always seem to come on the radio when you are eating!

    I always feel a twinge of guilt at ignoring ads. After all, our society does pretty much run on advertising. I feel that if only they would play fair and concentrate on bringing a little bit of taste and cheerfulness and pleasantry into our lives, as many indeed do, we would resent them less.

    I've yet to see an ad for a pocket catheter.