An Invitation to “Circumvent”?


Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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104 Responses

  1. Avatar greginak says:

    I’m guessing we are at or past the point of diminishing returns re: cig advertising regs. Virtually all of smokers now know about the health effects of smoking. Quibbling about this verbiage or that is tickling the margins of the margins.Report

  2. Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

    “Ok, now that they’ve banned color labeling, our new marketing strategy is as follows: our full strength cigarettes will be called Chucks, our lights will be called Leslies, and our ultra-lights will be called Tinas.”

    I personally think it’s a failure to appreciate that, whatever our faults, we are actually thinking, autonomous individuals and not actually living statistics of tobacco company marketing
    There’s a certain type of person who does not believe people are thinking autonomous individuals when faced with advertising, but that we are simply reactive, unable to resist the messages we’re given, and they want to protect the cognitively dominated consumer. The odd thing is, given how much power they think marketing has it makes no sense for them to think that banning one form of marketing would accomplish this. Yet it’s not unusual to see them be surprised by the outcome. In fact it’s not unusual to see supporters of all types of regulations be surprised by the failure of their favored regulations to achieve the desired outcomes. It’s a wryly amusing regularity of life.Report

    • Avatar Damon says:

      And yet these same people continue to use the same methods to convince us not to eat fat, or sugar, or smoke, or to wear seatbelts, or to mandate back up cameras, or on and on….

      Societie’s problem lies not with behavior some find objectionable, but those who believe that it’s their duty to change people through force of law.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        How else are you going to change them?Report

      • Avatar Damon says:


        I don’t want to change anyone and don’t want anyone to try and change me. The people I described are the lowest vilest people, deserving nothing more than being sent to the lowest plane of hell to suffer for all that they inflicted upon the rest of us.Report

      • Avatar Jim Heffman says:

        (He was giving a humorously cynical response to your statement.)Report

      • Avatar Damon says:

        My response covers both possibilities. 🙂Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Oh yea the glories of the free fucking market on public officials!
        tain’t the liberals wantin’ all this regulation (though I hardly see some disclosure as being horrid), it’s the insurance companies.Report

      • Avatar Damon says:

        Orly? Most of the liberals (who are all democrats btw) I know support all kinds of anti free market, statist, controlling every aspect of your life, initiatives. Most of the Conservaties (who were all Repubs) had a similiar attitude, but just about different subjects.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        yeah, follow the money. The liberals/conservatives tend to get “organized” by well funded initiatives from the Insurance Companies.

        Now, I don’t doubt that some of these will be better for our overall health… They’re still stupid ideas, though. “We’ll fine you if you don’t put your seatbelt on”

        The government ought not to be used to enforce profits for insurance companies. It’s just not kosher.Report

      • Avatar Creon Critic says:

        Proportionate public health interventions make sense to me. And I’m not sure they’re so off the wall for several commenters who’ve put their objections in fairly broad terms in this thread. So framing it as “their duty to change people through force of law” is obviously going to push a certain set of buttons (especially libertarian buttons).

        But there are other framings. One, incorporating externalities, to capture the true cost of a certain course of action – perhaps not using a child safety seat or not wearing a seat belt’s consequences for hospitals, emergency services, and the health care system.

        Another frame is giving consumers more accurate information, so including calorie information on menus and improving the accessibility of information on product labeling (I know there was a big debate in the EU with the food industry strongly objecting to a shift towards traffic light labeling).

        The debate gets more contentious when we slide along the continuum trying to pin down exactly what counts as a proportionate intervention. So, so-called soda bans – I say so-called because you can buy soda, but 16 oz. at a time. Or intervening against binge drinking with a a minimum price per unit of alcohol policy. I’m guessing these are far less appealing to a certain conceptualization of liberty.

        Overall, as I see it, the MPH bearers, epidemiologists, and policy makers in this space are’t power mad, oblivious to the potential for unintended consequences, or claiming a “duty to change people through force of law”. What counts as a proportionate intervention to them (and me) is more inclusive than some alternative (ahem, libertarian) outlook.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        I’m not a libertarian, ideologically, so it’s easy for me to accept regulation. Certainly in the abstract. I also like what you have to say about “proportion.” Where I suspect we part ways is that I don’t have a whole lot of faith in regulators to be proportional. What faith I may have had has been pretty strongly tested over the last year.Report

      • Avatar Creon Critic says:

        Well, hopefully we’re not basing this on faith. I’m sure that Bloomberg and company asked for the research. Is their a link with childhood obesity and soda? Do people tend to default towards eating or drinking the portion in front of them? And to the original post, what are the consequences for adolescent smoking uptake if we restrict tobacco marketing in this way or that? And so on.

        I think the values difference make for rocky shoals for this suggestion, but @jaybird brought up the idea* of look-back provisions (iirc, linked to sunsetting) for passed legislation. So at some time interval later say, this is what a policy proponent’s claimed for this law, this is what happened. Did the policy/regulation/law achieve it’s goals?

        Now, I tend to think the US has plenty of veto points (too many), and there are important things that’d be difficult to capture in this type of look-back (how do we know it was policy A that caused this result and not policies B and C?). But generally speaking, an institutionalized examination after the fact is a good idea to me. Further reducing the faith component.

        * Not this discussion. I don’t remember the topic, but I’m nearly sure it was Jaybird who brought up the possibility.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        I like that. As a bonus, it means that the insurance company who paid for the intervention will have to pay again to get folks to reissue the law (hopefully, at any rate).Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        I think where I lack faith is that it won’t come down to a matter of faith. If I believed things worked as you say they should, or could work that way, I’d be a lot more comfortable with a stronger regulatory state. What faith I had has been leaving as the ecigarette debate has unfolded, however. The verdict isn’t in yet, though, and so I’m sort of waiting (with diminishing confidence each passing week before the hammer falls).

        As far as Bloomberg soda thing goes, my response to it was actually measured. I think that the courts were right to shoot it down on the basis of inconsistency, but I would actually be interested in seeing how a more consistent law would function, what the effects would be, and so on. My guess is that it wouldn’t do much, but it would be good to see it in action (somewhere else!).

        That said, my understanding was that they were working on the basis of the health effects of soft drinks combined with research on portion sizes. Both of which are valid, but paint an incomplete and speculative picture on what reducing the maximum size of soft drinks in some venues would be. Such incomplete pictures are inevitable. Which to me makes it almost inherently a matter of faith.

        I’d be much more comfortable with such regulations if they came with a sunsetting provision.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Yeah, I think I’d be perfectly fine with regulations if they came out and said “here’s where we are now (and here’s the numbers and the formula) and here’s what we’re proposing and how much it will cost and we’ve determined that if we pass this law, we will have this measurable benefit for this measurable group of people at this measurable cost.

        And if we don’t hit those numbers, we repeal.

        That will encourage lawmakers to not promise the moon when they can only deliver Pueblo… and that will also allow us to discuss more reasonably the price of programs.

        Would I support a 200,000,000 dollar program to elimate 200,000 cases of diabetes? Heck, yeah, I would! Sign me up!

        And then I wouldn’t have to worry about what happens when the program accidentally costs 250,000,000 and creates 50,000 diabetics.Report

      • Avatar Creon Critic says:

        So I agree with the systematic examination after the fact. I’m on the fence on sunsetting (too many veto points). And I have a bunch of concerns about how many problems this examination will just put into different terms – we’ll essentially have the same values fights, but on different territory.

        So for instance, if judging something a success or a failure is so central, we’ll just continue to disagree over whether a policy was a success or failure. What about $210 million cost? What about being on a glide path towards eliminating 200,000 cases, but it will take 15 years instead of 10 years? Those 50,000 more diabetics, that was because some states undermined our efforts and John Roberts gutted important provisions of…

        If one has a strong incentive to oversell my preferred policy now, would a proponent just have an incentive to undersell the effectiveness of their policy options?

        Also on the same arguments on different territory point. I can see libertarians saying to me, look, you don’t value our choices. There is an inherent value in having XYZ choices that you’ve underestimated in your regulatory examination matrices. Getting all the data helps have a more informed discussion, but I think the values disputes would through.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Creon, if you are unwilling to say that it is even possible to measure the results of a law being passed, I’m cool with saying that we shouldn’t pass the law if it costs money.

        If it doesn’t cost money, pass whatever you want.

        But if we say this law will start here, cost this, and have this result and we even look at stuff like complete and abject failure as the fault of New Jersey being so close to Delaware and the Supreme Court being a bunch of dillweeds then I don’t see why we should spend real money passing laws.

        We can complain about New Jersey and the SCotUS for free.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        The thing about sunset provisions is that they’re not nearly as hard to re-up as it is to get initial legislation passed. The legislation is already written and status quo bias is already still in place. Docfix happens year in and year out because of status quo bias. Despite the sunsetting provisions, the Bush Tax Cuts remained in through a Democratic President and legislature.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        @will-truman but sunseting provisions, at the very least, *do* provoke a conversation at the time of legal dusk.Report

      • Avatar Damon says:


        That’s why I correct people who talk about America’s Capitalist Economy. No, it’s Corpratist. Big difference.Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      I actually understood the objection to light and ultra light, and while I wonder about the necessity of government intervention, the record of the tobacco companies suggests that keeping a close eye on them is important. And I do think there was data suggesting that people believed the “lights” were healthier based on the name. But the colors? Seriously?

      Though I have to admit that I quit smoking after the regulation went into effect, and for a long I was just walking in and asking for “lights” and getting them even though they were no longer called that. As another data point, though, the younger cashiers had no idea what I was talking about, so I would have to order by color. I assume this was true of younger smokers as well, who would therefore not have the mistaken association of less unhealthiness with the whites or silvers or whatever.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        @chris I understand the objection. When I first found out about t, I thought it was stupid. But what the hell? Maybe it will work and the costs are little. Of course, the costs are little precisely because of what they are complaining about now. I didn’t care all that much because I figured people would still be able to find their flavor of choice. Some regulation that they can’t differentiate at all would be more problematic.

        If they’d had to go with something else else, like James’s suggestion of women’s names, they probably would have actually done more to make the transition smoother. A different shape on the box (triangle here, octogon there) implemented before the transition so that people would be able to figure it out or something. That they didn’t do anything tells me that they already knew something the regulators didn’t.

        I wonder what the kids are smoking. If they’re disproportionately smoking reds, is that a health gain at all? A loss? Neither? The data seems to be slightly mixed. It probably varies from individual to individual. If it’s at all positive, then I’m not sorry the regulation went into place.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        When we go out, we’re generally around a lot of kids (20-somethings), and those kids smoke at a surprisingly high rate, at least socially, and seem to be smoking lights and Menthols. You can tell by the color of the filters (wait, is the FDA going to make them change those too?) and the smell. But that could be a function of the crowds we’re around (hipsters, hip hop, and DJ show crowds).Report

    • Avatar dhex says:


      “There’s a certain type of person who does not believe people are thinking autonomous individuals when faced with advertising…”

      it’s interesting that it’s always everyone else who cannot resist the siren’s call.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        I’ve heard many make that claim while asserting that they’re immune. It always reminds me of Marxists who claim everyone has false consciousness but them–in fact it’s precisely the same claim in its fundamental nature.

        But I’ve heard a few who admit that they’re no different–they feel manipulated by advertising and experience a good deal of buyer’s remorse. Usually it’s young people, and I have hopes that their experiences will teach them to be more critical of advertising claims. Having watched my kids growing up, it seems clear to me that it’s a learning process. But at least this group isn’t preening themselves like the first group.Report

      • Avatar dhex says:

        learning to evaluate claims – especially those presented in an emotional, non-verbal format – is actually a useful side effect of the study of the arts.

        it should probably be in high school curriculums but i ain’t holding my breath on that one. (along with “plagiarism: the hidden menace” and “thesis statements: what’s up with those?”)Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        From what I’ve seen of consumer research (on the processes underlying consumer choice), much of what ads are designed to tap into is unconscious, automatic, and not really monitorable. There’s really no way to get around its effects other than by adopting a global skepticism (and even that has its limits in practice).Report

      • Avatar Shazbot9 says:

        “I’ve heard many make that claim while asserting that they’re immune”

        Let us punch these unnamed “many” hippies who want to ban things because they are so sure that they are autonomous and wise and others are stupid and slavish. Oh I must punch those haughty hippies!Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Abstainance only is the only way to think about this sort of thing, right Shaz?Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:


        You said hippies, not me. But dumbass statements from you are hardly call for surprise anymore, are they?Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Alright, let’s get you both some smokes.Report

      • Avatar dhex says:


        sadly (for me), most of these kinds of choices seem to boil down to a blend of the rational and the insane.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        C’est la vie moderne.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        @dhex learning to evaluate claims – especially those presented in an emotional, non-verbal format – is actually a useful side effect of the study of the arts.

        This is really insightful. Though a non-useful side-side effect can then be the perceiving of “claims” in the arts when none (or different ones) might have been intended.Report

      • Avatar dhex says:


        “This is really insightful. Though a non-useful side-side effect can then be the perceiving of “claims” in the arts when none (or different ones) might have been intended.”

        true, but any framework can lend itself to overuse. and even overused frameworks can have some degree of value to them – e.g. false consciousness, or the various permutations thereof from various ideological pov’s.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        @dhex “it’s interesting that it’s always everyone else who cannot resist the siren’s call.” I’ll admit that I sometimes succumb to the siren’s call, particularly with regards to something I have a predisposition to like. Convenience foods, for instance. While an advertisement for french fried onion rings is tempting in the promised fatty saltiness, that’s nothing like the black hole of temptation that tobacco is to the smoker.Report

      • Avatar dhex says:

        perhaps the attitude should be renamed “bloombergian” in honor of its most famous practitioner. lets us skip the whole no true hippie scotsman puncher thing entirely.

        i would like to be convinced of the narrative – which tends to ebb and flow depending on which books are in ascendance – of the incredible persuasive power of marketing, rather than the incredible uh up in yer facey-ness power of marketing. it tends to swing between “choice is hard and they shoot themselves in the foot” and “they are as gods to mortals and shall surely make us all their slaves”. it would make me feel better about getting up in the morning, to be sure, like my own little brain’s version of tony robbins, baby-eating teeth and all. a god i am and all that. would probably lead to a debilitating ego addiction, followed by ego rehab, maybe becoming an ego yoga instructor, and probably paying 4.99 a lb for kale. or worse yet, being saved by ego jesus. that guy’s really full of himself.

        plus at least with the ego yoga you get the chance for ego infidelity with flexible people, and then some kind of ego redemption tour.

        in short, buy my stuff.Report

  3. I don’t have any particular comment, although as usual it’s an excellent OP. I’m just testing out my new pseudonym.

    (I’m the commenter formerly known as Pierre Corneille. I’m not trying to keep it a secret, but it’s just time for a change.)Report

  4. Avatar Mo says:

    When I used to smoke, I thought light and ultra light referred to the flavor level rather than purported health benefits. I knew my Camel Lights/Blues were just as deadly as my dad’s Marlboro Reds. Maybe it’s because I started smoking in the 90s rather than the 60s or 70s, so the purported health benefits were no longer part of the marketing.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      I’m actually curious about others. @james-hanley @jaybird @chris … did you smoke lights? If so, why? Health or flavor?

      If I have an objection to the relabeling, it’s precisely what @mo refers to here. It does describe something. The “solution” to this is to go with some other adjective, like Mild, but that was banned as well.

      Ultimately, though, this is not enough to get me to care or object.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Camel Lights Wides.

        Mmmm. Flavor. I thought that Camels were too strong unless I needed one and Marlboro tasted like burning leaves. Ugh. Even now I can tell when someone is lighting up a Camel or a Marlboro from across a street. Intuitively, I either open my nostrils to get just a little bit more of the smell or I wrinkle up to avoid it.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        I smoked lights. I alternated between Camel and Marlboro over the years, and sometimes smoked different types of Camel Lights, depending on availability. Lights were less harsh both in feel and taste. If I smoked a pack of Reds, I felt it in my throat in a way that I wouldn’t after a pack of Marlboro Lights, say.

        I never thought they were healthier, but when I started smoking, I knew people who did.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        I tried the wides, but it didn’t take. Camels were one of my preferred ubiquitous brands. My preferred brands, Maverick and USA Gold, were more hit-and-miss.

        The only time I ran into a problem with the above regulation was with USA Golds. Because it has “Gold” in the name. If I forgot to say “USA Gold Reds” then I would get “USA Gold Golds” This happened before the reg, but happened more after it.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        In fact, thinking back, I remember a woman, girl really back then (mid-90s) who once told me that she didn’t really smoke, because she only smoked ultra-lights.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        In her defense, in high school, we also said that people who smoked ultra lights didn’t really smoke.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        I smoked off and on for years. I was never a true regular smoker and never had problems giving it up (sorry, Will). I never smoked lights or menthols, unless that’s what I happened to bum off a friend. I preferred stronger cigarettes, often unfiltered. Probably what I’ve smoked most often over the years has been Camels–regular, whatever they’re called. My favorite smoke, though is Drum. I like to roll my own and I like the flavor.

        I think I’d hate smoking with a passion if I was addicted, but I’ve been lucky, so for me it’s just an occasional pleasure with no regrets.Report

      • Avatar Jim Heffman says:

        “Marlboro tasted like burning leaves”

        I’ve heard other people say the same thing, and it’s always hilarious to me, because burning leaves is what you’re doing.Report

  5. Avatar Shazbot9 says:

    Are smokers able to choose to quit any time? Are they “autonomous,” thinking beings?

    If so, why don’t all smokers, who say that it would be better if they quit, stop now? Are they not autonomous?

    My question seems silly, yes? That is because the question oversimplifies what it means for humans to be autonomous. Maybe we sometimes make choices (I am unsure), but we are often not free even when we think we are. Subtle and not subtle cues control us even at times we think we are free. And advertisers know how to manipulate those forces. Are we autonomous in the face of those forces? Sort of. Sort of not. Autonomy is complex and comes in degrees. If it exists at all.

    We regulate dangerous products to prevent advertisers from manipulating cues that cause us to act in self-dangerous and socially pernicious ways. Preventing cigarette companies from advertising at all, or selling their products with nice packaging, is something that we would be justified in banning.

    All cigarettes could be sold as “cancer causing nicotine stick.” You could add numbers: blend 1, blend 2, blend 3, etc. You could add “with filter.” But a committee of independent anti-smoking scientists would decide how to label the products, not the advertisers.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      When I quit, I quit cold turkey. For what that’s worth.

      I tend to think that people who say such things as “I can’t quit” are in need of some good, old-fashioned, “Straighten Up And Fly Right”.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      Your question is not silly, but misdirected. We’re not talking about being able to break an addiction, but whether marketing can make you unable to resist buying “blues” instead of “golds” (or vice versa, I guess).

      All cigarettes could be sold as “cancer causing nicotine stick.” You could add numbers: blend 1, blend 2, blend 3, etc. You could add “with filter.” But a committee of independent anti-smoking scientists would decide how to label the products, not the advertisers.

      And consumers would still be able to figure out which ones they liked. That’s the weakness in marketing–once people have been convinced to buy a particular product, they actually get to use it and see if they like it or not.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        If you do the marketing well enough, you can convince people that they like your product.
        Even if your wine tastes like peanut butter.Report

      • Avatar Shazbot3 says:

        Yeah, I was arguing that more intrusive measures are justified. Simply banning “light” as a word will lead to a synonym being used.

        Actually, I think it is a good process when the government starts with a light touch in banning (this is the nudge philosophy) and tests to see if it is not effective or effective and then contemplates more stringent action.

        They tried banning “light” it didn’t work. Perhaps banning all advertising and seller-controlled packaging is a good idea.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        The concern here wasn’t the attractive packaging. It was the the word “light” was suspected to suggest non-existent health benefits. As it turns out, though, that wasn’t particularly the basis of their consumer decisions. Multiple people here have actually testified to that fact.

        I still don’t mind the reg. Maybe it’ll make a difference for the next generation of smokers. Who knows?

        I suspect the de-packaging will have similar (non-)effect. If I recall, studies so far suggested that it does lead people to switch brands (I have testified to the fact that packaging does make a difference there) though not necessarily in the decision to smoke or not.

        And if that doesn’t work, what then? And what after that? After that? At the end of the day, we’re confronted with the fact that people want to do this.

        So the primary question is the extent to which we let them, and what we make them pay for it. Which is where things get uncomfortable.Report

      • Avatar Shazbot3 says:

        I am suggesting that everything about how cigarrettes are sold (packaging, description, pricing, where they are sold. whether you need a prescription. etc.) is fair game to legislate. A proper course is to start with small nudges (like banning a word here or there or small sin taxes) and go up from there in intensity if regulation.

        I would allow a few different kinds of cigarretes to be sold, each with a number: 1’s, 2’s, etc. No packaging except a warning that these are toxic horrors.

        This might mean that some favorite brands couldn’t be sold, but that is probably a good thing. Not satisfying customer demand is good in this area.

        This is not a ban, but is the next step up from smaller attempts to nudge consumers.

        Is a ban warranted? No, it would backfire.

        Would something like the system (which needs to be fleshed out) that I am suggesting help the problem? Meh, that is an empirical question. You can’t know until you try. I certainly see trying as worth it.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Well, a piece of common ground: I think the #1 thing we can do in helping people to quit and preventing them from getting started is to get tobacco out of convenient stores. I suspect that’s politically impossible.

        Prescriptions are a non-starter because tobacco is never medically indicated. Nicotine may be found to have medicinal uses someday, but there are better delivery systems. No physician anywhere will sign off on tobacco use.

        I think for a brand not to be sold, it would need to be demonstrated to be particularly unhealthy or pernicious. Since the current line on such things is that they are virtually all of equal danger, it seems unlikely. The exception is flavored cigarettes, which with the exception of Menthol have already been banned. Menthol is politically tricky. There are some serious black market concerns there (police organizations have advised against banning Menthol). I can personally go either way.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      There are constraints on the decision-process we make. My objection is primarily to considering us basically lemmings. To the point that if they take the word “Lights” off the cigarettes, of course we will change our habits because we’re only doing it because we’ve been fooled into thinking that the Lights are a healthier option.

      No, we smoke because we’re addicted. We’re addicted because of the chemicals. Advertising obviously does play a significant role in the smoking phenomenon, but that they thought this would have a significant effect and are disappointed that it didn’t demonstrates a failure to understand smokers. Seriously. What did they think the smokers would do?

      I don’t particularly object to stripping them of their nice packaging, though. From a previous post:

      Honestly, if we’re going to change the boxes, the most prudent thing to do might be to standardize them and make them as plain as humanly possibly. It is rare the cigarette box that truly captures my attention, but sometimes it happens. Mavericks used to have this visually stunning black-and-gold box. It’s probably not a coincidence that I gave them a try. Nor is it likely a coincidence I gave USA Gold, which also has a reasonably good looking box, a shot. The number of relatively generic brands are legion, but those are the one I picked (and stuck with them because they are a good value). Jamming those signals might not be a bad idea.

      Though I’ve read that the results of doing this have been disappointing. If it works, though, I’ve got no problem with it. (It’s pretty obvious to me that “1” will quickly become “red”, 2 will become “light”, 3 will become “ultra-light” and so on.)

      I do object to the photoshopped images, though, as a matter of visual pollution and as compelled political speech.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      @shazbot9 wrote:

      Maybe we sometimes make choices (I am unsure), but we are often not free even when we think we are. Subtle and not subtle cues control us even at times we think we are free. And advertisers know how to manipulate those forces. Are we autonomous in the face of those forces? Sort of. Sort of not. Autonomy is complex and comes in degrees. If it exists at all.

      And that’s the rub, isn’t it? What looks like autonomy often isn’t. @shazbot9 speaks of advertising influencing our choices, but isn’t addiction more powerful by tenfold than advertising? Enough so that we speak of it as a “disease,” as a third-party actor manipulating the addict as though she were a marionette.

      To my knowledge, nicotine is addictive.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

        Isn’t it also the case then that if we listen to those who oppose smoking that we’re also not making a free choice, but being manipulated by others for the achievement of their goals?Report

      • Avatar Trumwill says:

        @burt-likko Here is where it gets complicated. Because even given the addiction, given the marketing pitch, given everything… it’s still a choice. It’s an earnest desire. This was something that I didn’t understand until I was a smoker. Smoking is awesome! I didn’t do it because the ads told me to (there were no ads). I didn’t even do it just for the nicotine (which is why I am confident the patches wouldn’t have worked for me).

        There was a confluence of chemical and ritual and… I don’t know. A certain peace. A mixture of things that without one aspect, leaves a hole in me. I took Welbutrin because Welbutrin negates a lot of the effects of nicotine. But I would just sit there smoking cigarette after cigarette trying to get that feeling back. It was the thought of never having that feeling again that prevented me from quitting.

        Of which nicotine was a part, but not the whole thing. Of which advertising played very little part. The vaping worked precisely because it gave me replacement rituals and a simulated sensory experience that sufficiently replicated the experience that I was finally able to stop lighting leaves on fire and breathing in the smoke. Without all that comes with that.

        I don’t blame the anti-tobacco activists for not getting it. I didn’t get it either until there I was. I used to say that smoking was the dumbest habit on the face of the earth. But I was wrong. It was dumb to get started. But it’s been around for as long as it has for a reason. It “took” – across cultues and pre-dating advertising – for a reason.Report

      • Avatar Shazbot3 says:

        A bigger problem that is very, very relevant here.

        How do you define “free” or “choice?”

        I think many people are not free to quit or be immune to advertising. They may be caused to stop by external forces. But that is different than choosing to quit.

        Just so James doesn’t think I am one of the anonymous punchable hippies who think they are better than everyone who needs to be protected by paternalism, I am unable to stop my coffee addiction. Thankfully, it is not as damaging to me, thankfully.

        My mom will be dead of lung cancer soon. She couldn’t stop. did she choose to start? Sort of. Sort of not. Choice is complex.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        I’m very sorry to hear about your mother, Shaz.Report

      • Avatar Shazbot3 says:

        Thanks Will. I shouldn’t have mentioned it.

        I think the idea that people choose to start or continue smoking or that ads don’t override choice in some cases in the aggregate is an oversimplification.Report

  6. Avatar Saul DeGraw says:

    When I was 12 or 13, I briefly went through a phase where I smoked some cigarettes. What stopped me was a woman in her 20s laughing in my face about it. Now that will stop any adolescent male from doing something, getting laughed at by a member of the sex they are attracted to.


    I generally do think that people are more passive to advertising than they think including me especially people who claim to be immune. I do think that cigarette companies did use Joe Camel and other tactics to reach children before they could legally purchase cigarettes. The allure of smoking to a junior high school student is that you know it is bad for you, it is an “adult” activity, and you hope to seem much tougher than you really are. Much much tougher. It was the “bad” kids in my middle school who smoked cigarettes when no one was looking and the arty kids who just didn’t give a fuck.

    I suspect greginak is right though and we are at a place of diminishing returns.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      I’m not sure anything has played a bigger role in smoking reduction than social condemnation. I’m pretty sure nothing has. Especially when you consider the class elements and who has and has not quit smoking.

      (I find super-young smokers more funny than I probably should. Funny in an eye-rolly sort of way. But it’s a serious problem even in the newer, lower numbers of them.)Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        I’ve read (and I’ll search for it if you like) that with each increase in cigarette taxes, sales decline because people decide they can no longer afford it.

        Myth 5: Tobacco addiction is so strong that simply raising taxes will not reduce demand; therefore, raising taxes is not justified

        Reality: Scores of studies have shown that increased taxes reduce the number of smokers and the number of smoking-related deaths. Price increases induce some smokers to quit and prevent others from becoming regular or persistent smokers. They also reduce the number of ex-smokers returning to cigarettes and reduce consumption among continuing smokers. Children and adolescents are more responsive to changes in the price of consumer goods than adults-that is, if the price goes up, they are more likely to reduce their consumption. This intervention would therefore have a big impact on them. Similarly, people on low incomes are more price-responsive than those on high -incomes, so there is likely to be a bigger impact in developing countries where tobacco consumption is still increasing. Models developed for this report show that tax increases that would raise the real price of cigarettes by 10 percent worldwide would cause 40 million smokers alive in 1995 to quit and prevent a minimum of 10 million tobacco-related deaths.


        So I’d suggest that the problem here is that the cost of externalities aren’t included in the price.

        And I note that using tobacco significantly increases the cost you’ll pay for health insurance on the exchanges.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

        This was actually deliberate policy. Economists argued that increased costs would hit younger smokers–with less disposable income–harder, and deter them from smoking. Since nicotine addiction tends to occur among those who start smoking in adolescence, but not those who start smoking in adulthood, this was an effective way to diminish addiction rates in succeeding generations.

        It also played a part in deterring occasional smokers like me. I wasn’t addicted and didn’t love it enough to keep paying that much money. My departmental colleague, too, who was a more consistent smoker than I was, also quit, after the taxes had increased substantially, when he figured out how much money he was spending on them, and how much he’d rather have that money for buying records and going to live shows.

        The law of demand is not easily thwarted.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        There isn’t much doubt that cigarette taxes have an effect but there is only so much that can be put in the “we’re just taxing externalities” bucket. At this point, I’d argue that it’s mostly pigouvian.

        And at some point the regressive nature of such taxes become a concern. As well as smuggling and criminal activity.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        I’ll just note that I like taxes much better than defacto banning of legal drugs.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        How do you define “de facto banning”?Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Defacto banning is when there’s a brisk “underground economy” trade in a particular drug.
        (I happened to be thinking of Japan and Birth Control Pills).Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        I think a part of the problem is that taxes can lead to the sort of problems you’re worried about with de facto banning.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Yeah, at the point where you have a substantial black market, the taxes are Too Damn High.Report

      • Avatar North says:

        Another serious problem for smokers: hygene. Once upon a time cigarette smoke was considered fragrant and pleasant. Having a smoker smell was considered a plus.

        Now days, however, to a non-smoker kissing a smoker is like licking a used ashtray.Report

  7. Avatar Will Truman says:

    James, I consider the demographic shift of smoking to be interesting. One would think that such taxes would actually hit the poor hardest and that they’d be the most likely to quit. except that hasn’t particularly been the case. I remember the transformation of the smoking docks where I used to work between 2006-08. At first it was everyone from the blue collars to the programmers to the executive VP. By the end, it was me and a bunch of dock workers.

    I’d expect the primary beneficial effect of such taxes is convincing people not to take it up in the first place. But beyond that, it stops being so straightforward. Perhaps because it speaks to the type of smoker. The part-timer, the social smoker, and so on being able to quit. The others not. Or alternatively, providing that last bit of incentive needed for those who live in social circles where smoking is treated most harshly, while not doing as much for those where it remains accepted.Report

  8. Avatar Kazzy says:

    Only semi-related, but I’ve been thinking about your recent writing on anti-smoking campaigns as I plan more lesson for health class. One point I want to drive home to the students is that there is no form or method of sexual interaction that is 100% safe, in terms of either pregnancy or STDs. I don’t want them to think they can’t get STDs from blowjobs or that they can’t get pregnant if they use protection. However, I also want to make sure they understand there are far safer forms than others. Yes, a condom isn’t 100% effective but it is much, much, much more effective than unprotected sex. This is a fine line to walk, especially with adolescents. They can easily hear me say, “There is no such thing as safe sex,” and think, “Well, why use any protection?”

    Anyway, your way of thinking about this has been very helpful. Thanks.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      I think it’s better to talk a bit frankly about pregnancy scares, and about how, even if you don’t get pregnant — or get someone else pregnant, the stress is detrimental to your health (and, one presumes, athletic/academic performance should that be something useful to bring up).Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        I actually plan to relay two stories about friends who had unplanned pregnancies. Fortunately, they were already married and more-or-less situated to handle it. But these were reasonably intelligent, college educated adults (late 20’s and early 30’s) and even with the proper precautions, they still got pregnant.Report

  9. Avatar Kazzy says:

    When did the change happen? Growing up, I remember there being Marlboro Lights and Marlboro Reds. But I guess the “Reds” might not have actually been called that but simply were in a red box.

    Honestly, this makes absolutely no sense. If they want to ban Light or Ultra-light cigarettes, then do so. But if they just want to ban differentiating them, that would only serve to worsen the problem. If all the Malboros are packed in the same box — regardless of their type — then consumers never really know what they’re getting. Someone might get a pack of lights on Monday and smoke the whole thing. On Tuesday, he might get a pack of heavies and just follow Monday’s script, smoking the whole thing even if he didn’t really need or want to. Ugh. Idiocy.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      22 June 2010

      Even before the change, reds were the common descriptor for “non-lights.” Whether Marlboro or not. When getting Mavericks and they came in those black boxes, I would say “regular” to convey the same meaning. I could probably still do so.

      The more benign assumption must have been along the lines of thinking that people didn’t actually want Lights but for the purported health benefits. Which makes me wonder if they actually talked to any smokers.

      The less benign assumption is that they knew this would happen and that it gave them yet another avenue to demonize the tobacco industry. “We need to pass more regulations because they are that dishonest…”Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        Sort of like calling a regular Budweiser a Bud Heavy. Bud Light seems to be favored by younger people. So ordering a Bud in a bar frequented by young people usually means a Bud light. As such, one must specify if they want a Budweiser, which is what I usually go for if I’m drinking mass market. But Budweiser is clumsy to say. Bud Heavy works, even though the beer is never formally called that. It is simply not a light.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        @kazzy Interesting. I’ve never heard the term “Bud Heavy”… I always just say “Budweiser.” When I’m not back home. When I’m back home, I get something else.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        Heh… It’s only something I’ve been saying for probably 7 years or so and I have no idea where I picked it up. It does seem to be a fairly common phrase, so much so it is a bit of a litmus test for bartenders: if I order a Bud Heavy and they don’t know what I’m referring to, that’s a bad sign. Especially since I expect them to know more terminology than your average drinker.

        It would also not surprise me to learn it is a geographical term.Report

  10. Avatar Kolohe says:

    This is going to be fun when its MJ’s turn in about 15 years.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      As bad as the health issues are for the people who smoke the reefer, we’re even more concerned with the people who are using marijuana butter to excess.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      If I am still vaping in 10 years, what are the odds that I will have to be assuring an officer that it’s okay that I’m vaping because it’s THC in there and not nicotine?Report

  11. Avatar roger says:

    Not sure why we are worried about smoking when we could be focused on regulating something important… like horse carriages.

    Just sayin’.Report

  12. Avatar zic says:

    Did you know that while it’s legal to grow your own tobacco, it’s illegal to grow it for sale?

    As a smoker who doesn’t smoke (I started young, I will always be a smoker, I just rarely smoke, mostly in times of great stress), this sort of bothers me. Before I became an infrequent smoker, I switched from one of the cowboy brands in the red box to the ‘natural’ brand, without additives.

    And I went through serious withdrawal.

    So I firmly believe there’s more addicting stuff; not just the nicotine in the tobacco.

    And I firmly believe the stuff George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are famous for growing should be available at my local farmer’s market. I know it’s spiritual plant for many of the native religions; and if I have a religion, the stories and understanding of the first people who lived here in northern New England and the Canadian Maritimes is the closest thing to it, and that includes the sacred smoke of tobacco, sweet grass, and sage.

    So I’d get all libertarian about this particular plant, and get the government out of it. I’d also go all hippie, and get big corporations out if it. And I’d put it back in the hands of small farmers, which is where I hope marijuana goes.

    /My civil disobedience longs to collect and grow the forbidden plants just because government has no place regulating what I grow in my garden for my use. Papaver somniferum and nicotiana rustica were commonly grown by people all over not too many decades ago. They have beautiful flowers.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      So I firmly believe there’s more addicting stuff; not just the nicotine in the tobacco.

      I thought that had been proven. Or maybe that they artificially enhance the amount of nicotine. (That last one is odd as a criticism, given that the above directives are based on the notion that lower nicotine levels don’t make a difference. And… ugh, I just shouldn’t go there.)

      Some people can quit with nicotine in gum or, in my case, an aerosol. Others can’t. I wonder if it’s dependent on which chemical is the primary source of their addiction? It’s also possible that those who are able to quit using nicotine replacement are able to do so because it’s less of a physical/chemical addiction than it is for those who can’t? I’m spitballing here.

      There is so much involved in both the consumption and the quitting.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Me and my friends named 5 distinct pleasures from smoking.

        1) Nicotine
        2) the flavor of the smoke
        3) the hand thing
        4) the mouth thing
        5) playing with fire

        Depending on why you smoke, you might find yourself assuaged with the patch, some might need nicotine gum (but others would be fine with mere sugarless), others might carry (or chew) a pen for the rest of their lives.

        Vaping (especially the vapes with LEDs that light up) comes pretty danged close to providing the complete package.Report