June 29, 2003
From The Archives

Dr. Frank's Blogs of War has a post about cigarette warning labels and "the dubious notion that such labeling ever does, ever has, or ever will deter even one person from smoking". That inspired me to dig out an unpublished letter to the editor from April 1998. Though some of the names are a bit dated, I believe the argument is still quite sound. Nominations for updated references may be placed in the comments. Anyway, here's the letter, which can now be published without the approval of any editor:

Last Friday's Washington Post reports that Al Gore, Donna Shalala, and the National Institutes of Health are deeply puzzled that more teens are smoking despite a massive government campaign to discourage the filthy habit. Both the politicians and the journalists who write about them seem remarkably ignorant of teen psychology. Has no one considered that more teens are smoking not despite but because of the increased government denunciations? With stuffed shirts like Al Gore and weenies like David Kessler leading the campaign against tobacco, is it any wonder that more teens smoke?

If this administration is serious about combating teenage smoking, they need to apply some reverse psychology. A good start would be for Al Gore to start smoking again, in public, preferably while dancing or giving speeches or doing one of the many other things he does so woodenly. Perhaps Tipper could smoke while denouncing Marilyn Manson and various gangsta rappers? An Eleanor-Roosevelt-style cigarette holder would be a nice touch: upholding Democratic traditions while looking totally uncool.

I don't know if Bob Bennett smokes, but his plump figure, pasty complexion, and weasely -- excuse me, I mean lawyerly -- speaking style combine to make him the perfect poster-boy for the campaign. If he were to punctuate his denunciations of Kenneth Starr by waving a big fat stogie, and interrupt them from time to time to suck greedily at it and then go into a coughing hacking wheezing fit, the effect on teen smoking would be immediate and devastating -- assuming any of them were watching, of course. If Newt Gingrich wants to make it a bipartisan effort -- and he often does -- he would make an excellent second, scoring very high in plumpness, paleness, and general uncoolness. (So do I, come to think of it, but that's neither here nor there.) If Newt's not available, the Bennett brothers, Robert and William, would make a good bipartisan team.

The proposed campaign would work best if the stars were backed up by a collection of anonymous government employees: dozens of pencil-necked geeks and pointy-headed bureaucrats with button-down white shirts, bow ties, and pocket protectors full of mechanical pencils, all sucking on cheap cigarettes as if their lives depended on them. Sample lines:

You don't know me, but I invented carpool lanes, and I smoke.

It was my idea to force all new houses and apartments to be fitted with smelly 1.6 gallon toilets, and I smoke.

I'm in charge of the campaign to ban sport-utility vehicles.

I wrote the regs on motorcycle helmets.

I invented the V-Chip.

Mixing in a few harmless nerds wouldn't hurt:

I'm the assistant copy editor at the Congressional Record, and I smoke.

I'm in charge of weights (but not measures) at the National Bureau of Standards.

I spent thirty years classifying the weevils at the Museum of Natural History, and I smoke.

Sure, maybe some of these people look like movie stars, but somehow I doubt it. You could always substitute actors. Is Don Knotts still alive? If so, he must be pretty wrinkly by now, which is all the better.

And bring back the Tobacco Institute. Allow them, encourage them, to defend smoking, as long as they chain-smoke while doing so. There's nothing more uncool than a bunch of lawyers in expensive suits testifying before congress. C-SPAN is not exactly MTV -- not that MTV is MTV, either, if you see what I mean.

Some parts of the entertainment world are already doing their part. Speaking of not-exactly-C-SPAN, the last time I saw a cigar on MTV, it was an unlit butt clenched between the teeth of a scuzzy moron who was sweeping the floor in a porno palace or peep show. I forget what the advertisement was for, but the image was remarkably unattractive. Actually, I think the advertisement was for MTV, which suggests that reverse psychology is not a simple concept. But surely the government has some psychologists who can come up with something subtler and more effective.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at June 29, 2003 06:26 PM