September 1, 2009

Smoked out

Cigarette companies are suing the government over the new "tombstone labels" requirement, which mandates large warning stickers with pictures of diseased lungs and other gross stuff on each pack of smokes. The lawsuit is a losing gambit, but that doesn't mean the labels will necessarily be as effective as some experts think. After all, just because tobacco companies can't take the disturbing pictures off their product, there's nothing stopping customers from doing so themselves.

Introducing the deviously clever SmokeStixx, do-it-yourself decals for cigarette packs that hide the warning labels (and the brand names, so don't expect tobacco companies to embrace them, at least not openly) and also make smoking seem cooler than it has in decades. Aimed squarely at teens accustomed to personalizing everything from their MySpace pages to their game controllers, SmokeStixx turns the tobacco company's crisis into a money-making opportunity.

Which is not to say I don't have doubts about this product catching on. In this economy, who is going to pay an extra dollar for a pack of cigarettes? And it's one thing to customize your iPod, laptop, or phone, but do you really want to put in even the minimal effort of skinning a pack of cigarettes that you're going to throw out in a week or so? On the other hand, that alone is just another sign the product is aimed at new smokers who aren't yet going through a pack a day. Indeed, the target market has to be kids who already thinking smoking is cool. Mature addicts tend to smoke somewhere on a spectrum between resignation and self-loathing, and the act of disguising each pack they buy, no matter how cool the design, would only serve to heighten their feeling of shame, something no one is likely to do voluntarily.

Which doesn't make the product any less loathsome. If SmokeStixx do take off, kids who are new smokers now will continue to use them indefinitely, thereby artificially prolonging the time span during which they believe smoking is cool, and taking even longer to quit. Which would of course mean that tombstone labels had backfired egregiously.

Expect the FDA to ban SmokeStixx in about five years. And then expect kids who had grown up on them to come up with something else.

Posted by Daniel Radosh


I'm glad I can't see the stickes. If only they were concerned enough about my health to make them beep or vibrate, to warn me about stepping in front of thoughtless drivers. Then again, if they make the price of cigarettes any more expensive, I don't mind being run over.

Seems like way too much trouble for a disposable product. Pay an extra buck, AND then peel off and stick on the stickers yourself, one for each side?

Then again, by definition, smokers aren't really thinking all that hard about economics or the long term.

Why should this sort of product be disposable and sticky? It would seem to make more sense to have a reusable case -- more like an iPhone cover than a laptop skin. The fit wouldn't be as tight, but the convenience factor is there.

@Alex. Because then you wouldn't have to buy a new one each time (an explicit selling point in the video for retailers).

Are you all thinking what I'm thinking? Product niche!

Regarding the illustration: no better symbol for deadly addiction masquerading as social affectation than ... Krishna? Unfortunate. Lest we forget, for many decades the British East India Company forced India to make opium and forced China to buy it in the thousands of tons. Even today much of the British aristocracy denies the enormity of the atrocities committed while England licensed a corporation to rape India for 200 years.

Nepal, once the world's only Hindu state, was recently forced by military insurgents to go secular. In secular India tribal peoples in particular are targeted by an ongoing coercive conversion front proselytizing for familiar quaint Middle Eastern fairy tales about an invisible racist cloud father and his magic zombie son. Hindus are forbidden by law to intervene.

There's no Hindu Defense League or American-Hindu Public Information Committee to threaten consequences, no Hindu media moguls in the US to drum into our brains 24/7 that we should never forget about Hindu suffering. No Hindu fatwahs. No laws against displaying the symbol of past horrors, the Union Jack. Nobody goes to prison for questioning the official story of British persecution of Indians to ascertain if the numbers add up, such as in the Bengali famine (15,000,000 dead -- in large part because they were forced by the British to grow opium poppies instead of food) or the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre (as recently as 1997 Prince Phillip, upon reading off a plaque, "This place is saturated with the blood of about two thousand Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims who were martyred in a non-violent struggle," quipped "That's a bit exaggerated, it must include the wounded").

Nah. Hindus see a picture of Krishna, even on a pack of cancer sticks, and just feel good.

Kind of like a stash can that hides the risk from your sense of reason. This will never work. Part of the appeal is looking death in the face and inhaling.

BTW: I posted this week's Anti-Cap Contest on my blog and picked winners for last week (including some new honorable mention categories that are sure to stir controversy.)

J. D.,

Either that's satire, or you're completely unaware of the sort of violence perpetrated by the BJP and their goons against Christians, Muslims, homosexuals, and anyone who dares to differ from their vision of 'Hindutava'.

Not that you're wrong about the British atrocities.

Ah but remember, my post was spurred specifically by the commercial use by presumably non-Hindus of a sacred Hindu symbol to help market an addiction- and terminal illness-causing product, in the context of a culture that invaders have been trying to extinguish for millenia. You know, stuff like wholesale slaughter of villages, ears cut off and dog ears sown on, systematic destruction of temples and libraries, and, oh yes, a country enslaved. That sort of thing. The British were in India until 1947 and the Portuguese held on until 1961. Hindutva is a reaction to centuries of Muslim and Judeo-Christian overwhelming of Hindus. Don't know of anti-gay violence, but do the Laws of Manu, the Hindu equivalent of Leviticus and Noahide restrictions, condemn homo boys to something similar to the violent execution dictated by the Lords of the Hebrews and Muslims? Only if being forced to bathe with their clothes on is a fate worse than death. (Okay, girls caught playing could be whipped and have two fingers chopped off, but I don't hear anyone calling for that in recent centuries.) The modern general attitude toward gay play in India seems to be of the casual don't "ask don't tell, we all do it when we're young" variety. There are gay groups operating openly and official decriminalization happened last month. And no rural Hindu wedding is complete without a comical performance by the local Hijiras, the itinerate drag queen tribes. It makes sense -- in the stories of the Hindu deities Vishnu once took the form of the lovely female Mohini to seduce the priapic god Siva, and even had his baby. Siva while having a fearsome destroyer form also assumes Ar-dhana-rish-vara, embodying both the universal male and female aspects. Hindu belief in reincarnation includes the ideas that one travels between male and female bodies, all of them illusory shells holding the beyond-gender true self.

I've known a few Hindutva kids -- gentle, devout Hindu boys from tribal areas. One Hindutva idea is to obliterate the untouchable status of tribal Dalits, a good thing, yes? While I suppose Hindutva is superficially analagous on an SAT test level to Irgun or JDL or Jihadists, I don't think anyone suggests they have anywhere near the clout nor the same goals -- for that you'd need many more Rajastani oil fields discovered and ExxonMobil drooling over them. India is one-third the size of the US with three times the population, a population at least as diverse if not more, so isolated incidents need to be analysed in that context.

Yeah, I was in India during the 2002 Gujarat riots and had my hosts out of an overabundance of caution warn me to stay in during that episode of unrest happening a thousand miles away. Rabble rousers have all kinds of motivations and chronically unemployed boys in rural areas are subject to all manner of influences. One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter blah blah blah, and one man's religious fanatic is another father's perfect choice to marry his daughter.

Korrekshun: "... ears cut off and dog ears sewn on ..."

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