We be smokin’

Malcolm Gladwell in one of his books takes a fascinating look at the efforts to prevent kids from smoking by convincing them that it really isn’t cool because of the health threats.  The analysis, like all the other material in his books, is very engrossing and informative. 

The people who try so very hard to prevent kids from starting a lifelong relationship with cigarettes use some TV ads that are rivet ting and effective, but there is one solution to the challenge that gets overlooked by almost all the well-meaning crusaders.  Luckily for this columnist (April 18 will be National Columnist’s Day), his family used the overlooked strategy for convincing someone that a nicotine addiction is something they can forgo in their effort to cope with life.

When the columnist was eight years old, his curiosity led him to ask his mother about the prevalent adult habit.  She immediately had him smoke an entire cigarette and note his physical reactions to the task.  She then informed him that his pals would eventually conduct such an experiment on their own and in secret.  She told him, he had permission to smoke and thus removed the allure of a forbidden activity.  She told him that when his playmates started their clandestine investigations into the habit, he could come to her and get his next smoke just by asking.

Years past – one or two seems an eternity to a kid in grade school – and one day some adults came to the school area with some free samples.  (This column is based on personal memories and is exempt from the fact checking process.)  Since the young fan of Walter Winchell and Ernie Pyle was attending a parochial school the students would lineup outside and march in to the school together.  The adults used this as an opportunity to go to the public sidewalk area and hand out the free sample packs of cigarettes they were offering.

When the young student asked an aunt about why they would give away a product they usually sell, she suggested that the kid do the math and see just how well a free sample now, would pay off for them if it led to a lifetime of cigarette buying.  Being a math nerd, he did and was astonished to see that it produced an amount of money that was enormous.

Years later, when a fellow employee, Jim C., complained that Bob could afford a vacation in Paris and Jim C. who was paid a higher hourly wage could not, Jim C. asked the boss (Doug P.) about this inequity.

A quick bit of mathematics showed that by brown-bagging lunch and avoiding cigarettes and beer, Bob saved about $2,000 a year.  Jim C., who ate lunch at a coffee shop every work day, and smoked two packs of cigarettes a day, and averaged a six pack of beer per day, had about $2000 worth of living overhead expenses.

The cost (in 1986) of a two week vacation in Paris had been about $2000.  Jim C., didn’t like the explanation and begged Doug P. for a salary increase.  (Request denied!)

So what would happen if, instead of trying to convince kids that smoking isn’t “cool” (as seen in numerous movies) and that instead of stressing the health risks (some Americans could step on a landmine today), the advocates of cigarette abstinence just made a public service ad that showed a young potential cigarette customer, what he or she would save, if they chose not to spend their money on that product and extended the saving over out for a few years?

Maybe during hard times, kids would respond by saying:  “Aye, lad, there’s the rub!”?

Oscar Wilde said “A cigarette is the perfect type of a perfect pleasure. It is exquisite, and it leaves one unsatisfied. What more can one want?”  A vacation in Fremantle, perhaps?

Now, the disk jockey will play Patsy Cline’s “Three Cigarettes in an Ashtray” and we’ll vanish in a cloud of smoke.  Have a week that is so round, so firm, so fully packed.



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