Sunday, October 17, 2004

COLUMN: Crackulating

I never thought I'd find myself at a point where I actually feel SORRY for the big tobacco companies, but that's where I'm heading.

It's gotten to the point where I simply can't watch television for more than an hour without some smug public service announcement popping on my screen to brazenly inform me that, no matter where I go or what I do, I'm slowly being killed by second-hand smoke. And its getting so bad that I'm thinking of taking up a 4-pack-a-day habit just to put an early end to my misery of having to sit through these insufferable PSA's day after day after day.

Okay, smoking's bad. I think we can all agree on that. I'm not telling you to go out and puff away heartily (even though you HAVE come a long way, baby.) I'm simply asking for the option to eat my TV dinner and watch my "Seinfeld" rerun without being assualted by images of coughing babies and blackened lungs, that's all.

A while back, I tagged along with Sean Leary, our entertainment editor, to some teeny-bop show at the Mark that we needed to review. At the concert, on each side of the stage, they had two giant projector screens set up.

"Cool," I thought, "this'll give us a better view of the show."

Hmm... if only they used those screens to show us the concert. Instead, those screens were used for the sole purpose of, you guessed it, anti-smoking PSA's. But these weren't just ANY anti-smoking ads, they were the funniest anti-smoking ads of all time.

The genius theme of the campaign?


Well, I'm glad I found THAT out. I'll stop handing out cigarettes to schoolkids immediately. So tobacco's whacko if you're a teen. But if you're an adult, it's hunky dory then? That seems to be the unwritten moral of that tale. Maybe they need to put it in a better rhyme: "If you're a teen, then tobacco is whacko, but if you're an old fool, then smoking's real cool!"

But the BEST part about the "tobacco is whacko" campaign was the pamphlet we were all handed on our way out the door that elaborates on the whacko theme.

You know, I think the only thing slimier than the manipulation of cigarette ads to encourage minors to smoke... is the manipulation of anti-smoking ads to encourage minors NOT to. I can imagine a boardroom wherein some anti-smoking lobbyist is telling his advertising staff, "We need a campaign that'll reach out to the kids. We need to talk to them on THEIR level, not like whining adults!"

Which may be the ONLY explanation for this phrase, which I'm not making up, that was printed on the pamphlet we got:

"It's not crackulating to be a teen smoker!"

I'm sorry, it's not WHAT? Does that piece of paper actually use the word 'crackulating'? You know, folks, I may be pushing 35, but I like to at least pretend that I'm still down with the youth of today. I mean, I watch "The O.C.," okay? That said, I have NEVER heard the word 'crackulating' in conversation EVER in my life. Don't believe me? Go find a teenager right now and say to them "Yo, man, what's crackulating?" and then tell me I'm wrong.

And, is it just me, or does it seem a touch odd to encourage the youth of today to avoid one harmful drug by using a word that's most likely derived from slang for another altogether scarier drug? That's right, tobacco isn't crackulating. And while we're at it, it's not weed-ariffic, meth-tastic, or LSD-lightful either.

It's almost as if a tobacco company's behind the whole campaign, and is trying to make not-smoking sound SO lame that kids have no recourse but TO smoke in order to remain marginally cool and in order to remain as far away from the word "crackulating" as humanly possible.

Oh, wait. I just did a web search to try and find out which group was responsible for the "Tobacco is Whacko... If You're a Teen" campaign. Umm, turns out it actually WAS a tobacco company (Lorillard), and I'm apparantly not the first to accuse them of encouraging teen smoking by making NOT smoking sound ridiculously lame.

Moral of the story? THE WORLD IS EVIL, I guess. Avoid it at all costs, stay indoors, and shut your TV off on commercial breaks.

Personally, I want the anti-smoking pundits to hire ME. I've already got the idea for the greatest anti-smoking PSA in the history of time. I would simply take a camera with me to work and go outside to the back alley sometime in mid-January to film my poor co-workers, huddled together like a pack of homeless refugees in the sub-zero temperatures, teeth chattering, just to pay homage to Lord Nicotine. If there were a less crackulating site to behold on Earth, I'd be amazed.

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