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Stealth Cigarette Commercial
"These days the government won't even allow cigarette manufacturers to advertise on television. Instead all you see are those public health commercials in which smug ten-year-old girls order you not to smoke, to the point where you want to rush right out and inhale a entire pack of unfiltered Camels just for spite."
Dave Barry, Dave Barry's Bad Habits

Since the early 1970s, the law has prohibited tobacco products from being advertised on television in the United States. The tobacco companies didn't fight this, since they knew if they went to Congress, there was a good chance they'd lose their print ads as well.

This all changed as the result of a class-action lawsuit against Phillip Morris, which now calls itself Altria. As part of their settlement, the tobacco companies agreed to fund anti-smoking public service announcements.

So now they get to advertise on TV.

No, really!

Sit down and watch one of these commercials. Now, think back about what you've learned. The classic adage of advertising is, "There is no such thing as bad press," so talking about smoking on television — even in a pejorative context — helps their cause. It's about as close to a Xanatos Gambit as anyone has ever come in modern advertising: Whether the viewer smokes after watching it, they still watched it and they're still talking about it.

Beyond that, the anti-smoking PSAs produced by tobacco companies are always a little backhanded. The textual message — don't smoke — is coupled with a very different subtext. Studies have actually backed this up, linking exposure to "anti"-smoking PSAs to higher cigarette use. Now there's a series of anti-smoking commercials that no longer talk about the health risks and entirely talk about how evil the tobacco companies are. However, no one ever really thought tobacco companies were that much of a moral standard-bearer beforehand, so the most common reaction to these new revelations concerning their schemes is to marvel at the sheer Magnificent Bastard genius of them.

Ironically, liquor companies have never benefited from any similar trope, since anti-drinking commercials are nowhere near as common and rarely call for the abuser to cease indulging his habit altogether. In fact, they've been more than willing to make commercials of their own calling for their customers to drink "responsibly" (i.e. in moderation) and have a designated driver to get them home safely if they've had too much.

A deliberate Broken Aesop that may play on Our Product Sucks and is probably one of the most extreme versions of The Man Is Sticking It To The Man. (He's been ordered by the court to stick it to himself.)

An invoked instance of Do Not Do This Cool Thing. See also Smoking Is Cool.

Real Examples:

  • Stealth PSA motto: "Tobacco is wacko — if you're a teen."
    Subtext: "Smoking separates the adults from the mere teenagers."
    • This is especially bad, because teenagers spend so much effort trying to be perceived as adults - that's the whole point of many of them taking up smoking!
    • Or, "Don't be the kind of douche who uses 'wacko' unironically - light up!"
  • Real PSA dialog:
    Voiceover Guy: Did you smoke?
    Teen: Yeah.
    VO Guy: Why?
    Teen: I wanted to be cool.
    VO Guy: Why'd you quit?
    Teen: I decided I didn't need all that.
    • :Text: "Be your own person: don't smoke."
      :Subtext: "... unless you want to be cool."
  • There's also the "Right Decision, Right Now" campaign, which, in addition to having anti-smoking products that are ridiculously lame, also implies that, while smoking is a bad decision now, it might be okay later.
  • PSA: "Tobacco companies fund free concerts and give out branded merchandise at these concerts as a stealthy way to advertise their products, playing you for a fool!"
    Subtext: "You get a free concert and lots of cool swag, and all you have to do is cope with our stealthy advertisements!"
    • Benson & Hedges pulled its funding for the Symphony of Fire and the Toronto International Film Festival in 2000 when new advertising regulations came into effect. The subtext was that they were only funding them to get their logo displayed, not to support culture.
  • PSA: "There is no safe cigarette. Go to our Web site and read more about the health risks of smoking."
    Subtext: "Hey, look what good corporate citizens we are! And go to our Web site! WE HAVE COUPONS!"
  • Outside TV, note the "If you're thinking about quitting smoking..." brochures sometimes attached to cigarette packages. Inside is information on the health benefits of quitting — information that might reinforce your decision to quit. Of course, as long as the pack is already open...
  • There's one in the Netherlands, Canada and the United Kingdom which shows an attractive woman smoking, and then says "Lose The Smoke Keep The Fire". The problem is she still looks sexy smoking, and kind of dorky afterwards. This is a rather indirect version, however, since it's coming from Nicotinell Gum, which doesn't make any money if smokers keep on smoking, but does make money from maintaining a steady consumer base of smokers in need of its product to help them quit. Here it is.
  • Philip Morris has released a brochure urging parents to discuss all tobacco products with their kids: not just normal cigarettes, but also cigars, pipes, smokeless tobacco, Indian cigarettes, and clove cigarettes. At least four of these other product types are types Philip Morris does not make. Not to mention that the explicit message is "tell your kids that the tobacco products Philip Morris doesn't make are just as unhealthy as ones it does...
    • Wow, Mom and Dad, I guess you learn something new every day! I had no idea there were that many kinds of tobacco products on the market!
    • But now you do!
  • A set of anti-smoking PSAs involve a brief (and rather quiet) mention of some evil facet of the tobacco company, followed by an elaborate song and dance about how they must have been mistaken. At the end of the song, they very quickly realize that their justification makes no sense. The part of the commercial that inevitably stays with you is the big song and dance that tobacco companies love you. Note also that the last bit happens so quickly at the very end that it's often cut off by local stations trying to return to the show on time.
  • This French anti-smoking print ad's message was basically "Teen smoking is like whoring yourself out to a person of authority." There were numerous problems with it: apart from the fact that if you listen to another authority, in this case the campaign, you're not really your own person either, it was such a sheer exaggeration that it was dismissed by adults as shocking and by teens as preposterous; also, a substantial number of them replied that, even if it looks bad, they might like to blow some guy, even some Corrupt Corporate Executive in a suit.
    • Also, one French TV commercial showed some evil company's Big Bads being assembled to find a way to eliminate tons of toxic wastes, and ending up creating the idea of cigarettes ("People are ready to pay to swallow this crap"); while it is an intriguing idea for a story, the acting was so bad that it looked like a parody, and gave points to the Smokers Are Cooler team instead.
  • John Waters filmed a pre-movie spot for an art house theater where he tells the patrons that there is no smoking allowed in the theater... while smoking a cigarette and asking the audience if they wished they had one. Then he tells them to smoke anyway, since it gives the ushers something to do.
  • MUSE ADVERTISING and Benir Koranache used cinema and a pithy "Hit-man" trope to deliver this message to urban (USA) teens, where cigarette distributors are portrayed as psychopathic mercenaries... and totally badass. The spot would later be archived on Ad Age's Creativity site and received a Emmy nomination for its viral use. Here
  • The ad: a lottery ticket in a refrigerator magnet tray gets covered by kids' drawings, report cards, blue ribbons.
    The message: There are lots of things more important than the lottery.
    The subtext: your weekly Lucky Four are an important part of a balanced and successful family life.
    • If you don't want to forget your lotto ticket and potentially miss out on that jackpot, stop caring about your family.
  • Seen on slot machines in Canadian bars: "Before you lose everything, call:" with the number for a gambling addiction hotline.
    Subtext: Keep gambling until you've lost nearly everything.
    • Or cognitive dissonance: I'm not calling them (perhaps because I'm in a busy bar) which proves that I'm not concerned about losing everything just yet.
  • Polish TV saw several suspicious ads: an advertisement of "Bols boat" (the Polish for boat differs in but one letter from "vodka", and Bols is a brand of vodka), "Recreational Equestrian Tourism Soplica" (Polish acronym for that sounds very much like "vodka", and "Soplica" is a brand of vodka), the ad with huge Martini logo and a very small text explaining that Martini is sponsoring some nobody's-heard-of film fest...
  • There was an ad that ran in theatres was anti-weed. It featured two badly drawn stick figures—a man and a dog—talking about weed. The message was basically, "Don't do pot or your dog will be disappointed in you".
    Text: "Smoking pot is lame, don't do it."
    Subtext: "Or not, we don't really care, as can be evidenced by the fact that we refused to come up with something more compelling than this."
    Sub subtext: "But hey, what do we know, we're stoned enough ourselves to think stick figures and talking dogs make an effective PSA."
  • The Truth started airing ads for "Shards of Glass Freeze Pops" and "Shards of Glass Mini-Chewables". Presumably, the implication is that cigarettes are as dangerous as these imaginary products, which would never be let on to the market, but the ads are just way too confusing to get the point across.
    • Now there's a recall of all "Shards of Glass" products because they're dangerous. Because it's OBVIOUSLY the product's fault and not the people who use the product knowing the dangers.
    • An older Truth ad spot featured a handful of teenagers going behind the school to, "Have a pick" (referring to picking their noses). The end narration was, "Isn't smoking just as disgusting?" The audience was obviously meant to roll their eyes, thinking "Hell no!" The subtext was, "Don't be like these gross nose-pickers, smoke instead!"
  • During the Cold War, several Eastern European resistance groups had a workaround during the 60's to avoid government censorship. Instead of releasing the propaganda directly, they distributed newspapers with detailed articles about all the treasonous publications their fine leaders had recently put down, refuted, or nipped in the bud. Of course, everything in those sordid imperialist publications had to be "examined" in excruciatingly lurid detail while they were decrying them.
  • Prohibition. During the 1920's, when alcohol was outlawed in the US, some wineries would sell grape juice in wine bottles, and if you peeled off the label it had instructions on the back that basically said "don't follow these instructions or this grape juice will turn into wine".
    • According to some historians, the makers of Vine-Glo (a grape juice concentrate sold during Prohibition) sent demonstrators out to stores to show how easy it was to convert the block into refreshing and legal grape juice. Those demonstrators also showed exactly what you should not do, lest your grape juice "accidentally" turn into wine.
  • Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue. Just watch it and you'll see. That is, if you can make any sense out of it.
  • During the 1980's, "Seventeen" magazine had a full page ad sponsored by a tobacco company explaining that smoking was a grown-up decision, and not one to be made until you were old enough and mature enough to understand what you were doing. In the meantime, enjoy just being a kid!
  • Similarly to the Nicotinell commercial above, a UK advert for Nicorettes (plastic cigarette-shaped nicotine dispensers to help you quit) showed the sort of classic movie characters who suggest Smoking Is Cool (vamp, grizzled cowboy, etc.) with Nicorettes instead. The problem: they looked completely ridiculous. Looks like smoking really is what makes them cool!
  • A billboard campaign for a service meant to help you quit smoking features the slogan, "Are you ready for life without tobacco?" coupled with a picture of what is presumably someone in the process of quitting. These people all have "smiles" that look more like resigned grimaces, as if they're thinking, "Sure, if you can call that living."

Fictional Examples:

  • In The Simpsons episode "Lisa the Beauty Queen", Laramie Cigarettes sponsor the Little Miss Springfield Pageant.
    Father: Wow, president of Laramie Cigarettes, Jack Larson!
    Larson: This year, Laramie is sponsoring the Little Miss Springfield Pageant. You see, government regulations prohibit us from advertising on TV. [takes a puff on a cigarette and holds up the box] Ah, that sweet Carolina smoke! But, they can't prohibit us from holding a beauty pageant for little girls aged 7 to 9.
    Girl: [as pageant winner] What a feeling! I'm as happy as a smoker taking that first puff in the morning!
  • The "Butt Out" episode of South Park starts with the boys watching a stage improv group at their school who are trying to deliver an anti-smoking message. Their performance is so annoying that when they announce "But if you don't smoke, you could be just like us!" the kids run out behind the school immediately afterward and start chain-smoking cigarettes as if their lives depend on it.
  • The Onion parodied this trope with this.
  • A Capitol Steps sketch has a "smokesman" from Philip Morris report that his company, in the wake of the tobacco settlement, has decided to lead the effort to teach kids about the hazards of smoking by way of a fun new collectible card game called "Smokemon," in which a "three-pack-a-day hardcore nicotine freak such as Smoke-at-you" can be evolved from a mere casual smoker. He then adds, "I'll tell you, kids: don't smoke cigarettes, okay - unless you want to look really, really cool!"
  • Viva Variety Cigarettes! "Smoking's bad. We're bad."
  • Parodied on the install screen of Metal Gear Solid 4. We see a video of Snake gruffly chaining cigarette after cigarette, occasionally playing with the smoke a little, while text comes up on screen talking about how cigarettes damage your health and the health of others around you, and how you should never start.
    • Whenever you contact the CODEC support in earlier games while smoking, they'll give you a list of reasons why he should quit (Naomi's lung cancer speech from the first one comes to mind), and Snake retorts along the lines of "yeah, but smoking feels nice". In Metal Gear Solid 2, Snake's reason for not quitting smoking is the far less appealing "I'm going to die young anyway, so why bother?", but Raiden is apparently an ex-smoker, and when his girlfriend begs him not to take up smoking again because of how hard it was to quit, he says the best way of avoiding that is to carry on smoking. Even in gameplay terms, the cigarettes sap your health and the item menu is plastered with health warnings, but help you get through lasers, restore psyche, let you see in the dark, and make Snake look really cool.
  • Remember a radio PSA in the early 2000s that mocked this, by having a tobacco spokesperson talking about their future anti-teen-smoking efforts. He talks about their new anti-smoking mascot Avery the Anti-Smoking Aardvark, who wears a Hawaiian shirt with sunglasses, and spouts the catchphrase "Smoking is Totally Un-Tubular, Dude!". The tobacco spokesperson goes on to say that they've had this catchphrase emblazoned on a million rainbow-striped lucky rabbits feet, which they plan to distribute to junior high students at their Totally Tubular Teen Talk motivational seminars, where Artie will "rap" with the kids about how "Smoking makes you a silly stupid smelly-head!"
  • On Clone High, the Raisin Council invokes this trope by having Johnny Hardcore (Jack Black as an Ink-Suit Actor) tell kids NOT to smoke raisins, or else they will become raisin-addicted cool rock stars like himself. Then they provide The Pusher to sell them raisins. The logical conclusion, of course, is a What Do You Mean, It Wasn't Made on Drugs? anvilicious parody of Drugs Are Bad episodes.
  • Invoked in Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal with this superhero telling kids smoking is bad -while looking 'awesome' smoking.
  • Thank You For Smoking:
    • The tobacco lobby produced an "anti teen smoking ad" that basically consisted of a boy talking to his father about how he can't wait to turn 18 so he can smoke just like his dear old dad.
    • Also in the movie were print ads that said "Everything your parents told you about smoking is right." The ad's maker pointed out that, in addition to being extremely softball, the last words of the ad are "smoking is right."
      • Moreover, as surely must have occurred to the advertisers, who knows what the parents may have told their kids? Sure, it might have been "These things are killing me, kid. Don't make the same mistakes I did," but on the other hand it may have been "Why should I give up smoking? Your great-grandfather smoked three packs of unfiltered Lucky Strikes a day all his life and he lived to be 98 years old."
    • There was extensive discussion of the insertion of a smoking scene into a major motion picture, just so people would associate smoking with post-coital astronauts blowing rings while floating sensually around one another.
    • In a meta-example, the movie never actually shows anyone smoking. In a deleted scene, Nick Nailer asks for a smoke after he's kidnapped by the anti-smoking radicals, and immediately blacks out from the nicotine. Another deleted scene shows Nick's son reaching for a cigarette during a press conference - and the photographers get some great shots of Nick slapping it out of his hand.
  • Family Guy: "Are you smoking yet?"
  • Bungie Software parodied this in some of their magazine advertisements in The Nineties, saying "Unlike tobacco companies, we're more than happy to tell you how addictive our products are."
  • In The Critic episode "A Song For Margo," Jay's make-up lady Doris mentions she was in a commercial for Pleghm Fatale Cigarettes in the 1950s.
    Doris: (singing) Smoke in the bathroom, smoke after school, don't listen to your parents, 'cause smoking's really cool.

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