A COUNTERBLASTE TO TOBBACCO REPLACEMENT – How All Adverts Lie To You But Some Lie More Than Others
Adverts lie to us. That’s ok though, because everyone knows that. The women in the photos that tout anti-wrinkle treatments are quite clearly squinting and have had their negligible laughter lines filled in with black crayon in the “before” shots. In the “after” shots, they’ve unscrewed their faces and wiped the crayon off with cold cream and-abracadabra- they look fifteen years younger. The women who purchase these products are fully aware of that, and of the fact that what they are buying is hope rather than solutions.
Certain popular and acrid male deodorant products bear more similarity to CS gas than to the powerful aphrodisiacs they are portrayed as. Even the most stupid and gullible young men are not under the impression that a few squirts of these products will summon up the swarm of bikini models that infest the adverts.
We have all grown up with the crime against humanity which is advertising, so most of its tricks are pointless apart from reminding us that these products actually exist in the first place. It’s a sort of unwritten law: they try to con us and we ignore the fact and go out and buy the stuff anyway. It all sort of evens out in the end.
There is one type of advert, however, which I fear is slipping under everyone’s radar. People are being genuinely fooled by them and this has to stop. It’s the adverts for all the gums and patches and various devices used to give up smoking. Not that there’s anything wrong with products themselves. They are great and do exactly what they say they will. It’s the wonderful life sans cigarettes which they try to sell which is the problem.
Watch the guinea pigs on these tiny soap operas and after a few months off the evil weed they are playing footy with the kids or, in extreme cases, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. All sorts of exciting things which weren’t previously available to them. Have you ever wondered why? Well, it’s because they’re fitter and healthier isn’t it? They have so much more spare cash to splash out on things like mountain climbing trips to Africa, don’t they?
No. Although these are indisputable facts, they do not collectively comprise any kind of reason for the behaviour of these former smokers. If you don’t know the true reason, then you have either never smoked or never given up for more than a few days.
What has opened up to them is, in fact, the wonderful world of displacement activities. Look closer next time you see one of these people on the telly and you will spot the quiet desperation under their brittle happiness. They are trying in vain to fill the yawning, aching gap left in their lives by cigarettes. The driving force behind their excitement and enthusiasm about it all isn’t that they are trying to convince you that it’s a good idea to join them and that life without tobacco is wonderful. They are trying to convince themselves
“There’s nothing worse than a reformed smoker”. Light up in front of them and they do all the fake coughing and wrinkling of the nose before launching into rabid anti smoking diatribes. So, why is that? Well, smoking makes you smell unpleasant to people who have never smoked. But to the ex-smokers, you smell of something far more threatening. Temptation.
The source of the aggression is the same as for the recovering alcoholic who can’t even take a sip from your can of Top Deck shandy. To him, the feeble vapours wafting from that can are a little whiff of paradise lost. The ex-smoker calls your smoke a “vile fug” or whatever. What they actually mean is it smells like the seductive incense drifting out from the most exclusive knocking shop in the Old Kasbah.
There is brutal reality to face here. Despite the valiant experiments performed in Hell’s Angels’ bath tubs in Amsterdam, Nicotine is still, weight for weight, the most addictive substance known to medical science. Alcoholics don’t stop being alcoholics, they just stop drinking. Heroin addicts don’t stop being addicts, they just stop jacking up. So, smokers don’t stop being smokers, they just quit smoking.
But the really cruel bit is that that fierce addiction is not the most difficult part. The new group of reformed nicotine junkies which you join does not allow you to grieve for the things about smoking which were, and are, bloody fantastic. They have that fragile brightness of people who have lost loved ones and haven’t begun to deal with it yet. Any thought of discussion is out of the question. So if you are thinking of taking the plunge bear in mind the following:
Smoking does look cool; some women do look sexy when they smoke and men do look rock hard with a fag dangling from their lips. Without cigarettes, your pint of ale in the sunny beer garden will be meaningless and even the best of company will somehow seem less convivial. Meals will seem to have something missing when you’ve finished them and sex will never be the same without that post coital smoke.
There used to be an advert in the days of black and white television, way back when the screen was the size of a postage stamp. It has sonorous saxophone music and a man dressed in a hat and trench coat, like a Raymond Chandler private detective. He was wandering round deserted and rain swept streets, carrying with him some deep inner sadness. At the end of this, he pushed a cigarette in his doleful mouth and a smile slowly crept across his lips. “You’re never alone with a Strand” said an unseen, dark brown male voice. Strand, as you might already know, are a now defunct brand of fags.
Your worst moment of wretchedness and despair has not yet arrived. When it does, you will be far better equipped to deal with it if you have an ashtray and a full packet of your favourite brand sitting alongside that inevitable bottle of vodka.
The “Strand” advert didn’t sell many ciggies. People found it too depressing. But the man with the velvety tones was right about one thing. You can never be truly alone with a full packet of your favourite smokes within easy reach. Think about that very carefully before you make that huge decision the shiny happy people on the telly want you to make.
Why the consideration, given all the benefits of quitting? Well, smoking has a pull all of its own. Once you start, it’s like swimming against the swirl in a big sink full of water with the plug out. Quitting isn’t fighting that pull; it’s just allowing yourself to go down the plughole and into a different place. And here’s the truly awful part. In this new place, you will be incomplete. Your habit has left a big smoking shaped hole in your life. You can pack it with whatever you like, but it will never, ever be fixed. It will still be a hole packed with stuff.
When the warning on the packet says”Smoking is highly addictive, do not start” that’s good advice. Good, if a little too late. But it is a little bit like the sleeve notes on War and Peace saying: “It’s about Russia.” The point I’m trying to make isn’t “Don’t quit”. It is this: for god’s sake do quit, but remember that whatever happens after you do, you will always just be getting the best you can out of a broken life.
I’m quitting next week. You can tell, can’t you?
© Copyright Michael Grimes 2013