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Why People Smoke

It is Addictive

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Tobacco companies fought for years to keep images like those below off the air and out of print.  At least part of their decision to voluntarily stop radio and TV advertising in 1970 was a desire to keep Congress from mandating equal time for anti-smoking messages - images like those below.  Knowing first hand how effective images are in manipulating behavior, they did not want to have the public shown a message like these for each one they put up.  After settling the lawsuit brought against them by the states in 1998, the companies lobbied hard in state legislatures in a largely successful attempt to keep money from being spent on effective anti-smoking ads.  One of the most famous examples of the latter is the one showing a woman who, despite having had her cancerous larynx removed, still cannot quit.  She now smokes through the hole left in her neck (shown below).  The entire spot is available for viewing as a Quicktime movie via a link from this 1997 CNN story.

The addictive nature of tobacco has been known for centuries.  According to Edward M. Brecher writing in Licit and Illicit Drugs (Little Brown, 1972), European and Asian nations attempted to ban it soon after its introduction.  Their methods were often brutal.  In Constantinople, the Sultan decreed the death penalty for tobacco use.  In Russia, the Czar's decree was explained as follows by a visitor to Moscow, "Offenders are usually sentenced to slitting of the nostrils, the bastinado, or the knout." (page 212)  In Japan, smokers were subject to having all their property confiscated.  Such laws, decrees and edicts were to no avail.  Brecher writes, "From those days until today, it is most important to note, no country that has ever learned to use tobacco has given up the practice." (page 213)  He recounts research done in Germany in the immediate aftermath of World War II, when the country was in ruins and tobacco was in short supply; "the majority of the habitual smokers preferred to do without food even under extreme conditions of nutrition rather than to forego tobacco. Thus, when food rations in prisoner-of-war camps were down to 900-1000 calories, smokers were still willing to barter their food rations for tobacco."  Brecher goes on to draw this lesson, "The German experience after World War II suggests an explanation of why we Americans in recent generations have lost awareness of the addicting nature of nicotine.  People become acutely aware of an addiction only when their supply is cut off.....In the twentieth century, in contrast [to previous centuries], warehouses and channels of distribution have been organized so that cigarettes are conveniently and continuously available; it is seldom necessary to 'walk a mile for a Camel.'  Only when the supply is cut off - as, for example, when someone decides to give up smoking - does the smoker become acutely aware of the craving.  Even then, because of the devastating implications of being addicted to a drug, he tends to deny being addicted - even though the intensity of the craving causes him to violate his resolution and start smoking again." (pp. 226-227)

Here are samples of what the tobacco companies want to keep you from seeing.
Just imagine what would happen to tobacco sales if you saw images like these every time you saw a tobacco company ad.

You can find more anti-smoking images at the following web sites.

  1. the BADvertising Institute
  2. Health Canada's Infotobacco.com
  3. Adbuster's Joe Chemo and Marlboro Country

For information on nicotine addiction/dependence issues and treatment methods, follow this link: http://www.healthline.com/channel/nicotine-addiction-and-dependence.html


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original web posting: Tuesday, October 9, 2001
last modified: Friday, November 20, 2009