Thursday, August 12, 2004

Smoke 'em! 

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Tobacco in Japan. If a closer look is taken, it becomes decidedly harder to make such tidy, almost sensational proclamations like 'the end is nigh...' that recently have appeared on Click Opera, specially in the case of Japan Tobacco (JT). Of course such remarks are not without their effect. Indeed, such hyberbolics, will probably send most North Americans, who have been waiting, poised in anticipation on their political p's and q's for well over a decade now, into a state of absolute political delirium.

That's because the solace they seek in any would-be doomsayer of Japnese Big Tobacco is only a little more than a kind of ideological mirrioring: 'See, I TOLD you that tobacco is universally evil! It says right here that they're even beginning to get the picture over in Japan!'. Well, true enough, but please remain mindful of the fact they THEY HAVE BEEN ALONE IN THEIR QUEST FOR SO LONG, and are weary at this point. Granted they are in need of the respite that such rosy words can give, but when they become divorced from cold, hard reality...

The war here in Asia against Big Tobacco is far, FAR from over. It isn’t even the beginning of the end, more like the end of the phase that comes before the beginning of the beginning of the end. (Ahem...) Admittedly, JT stands out among its rather Politically Incorrect Asian Big Tobacco brothers as the least insensitive, but their anti-smoking resolutions - a new ethics of smoking, etc. - are hardly anything more than lip service. The adds that were recently curated on Click Opera were wonderful...as design culture or Japanophilla, and I'm sure they'll have a huge impact OUTSIDE of Japan. Say for example in North America, among hipsters whose all-embracing, A-Z knowledge of Japanese culture somehow tacitly omits from the 'S' section the word 'smoking'. This is a pity, as it is such an intrinsic part of the culture here, for better or for worse.

With this being said, a brief apologia is in order; the shield the following paradox provides this writer: Statistically speaking, the smoking rate among adult men is almost 50% (about double the U.S. figure), while for women it is below 15% (actually 5% lower that the U.S.). Despite the fact that the Japanese smoke more than almost any other country in the world, Japanese longevity for both men and women ranks first in the world; well above that of the U.S. and other deveopled countries. In other words, it is possible for the Japanese to...err...roll their cigs and smoke ‘em too! (Pardon.) This simple fact couldn’t be anything other than terrifically infuriating to North Americans, who seem to expire in droves yearly from (ironically) from much less excessive smoking patterns.

So for the time being, the Anti-smoking hysteria yet to arrive in Japan and smoking is still relatively popular. Why shouldn’t it be? There is no apparent (repeat, apparent) DOWNSIDE. That is unless one considers that the glowing stats floating around in that flotsam and jetsam of information known as the internet are probably all insidious concoctions that the Japanese Govt. (in league with Japanese Big Tobacco) hasdreamed up. One comment culled from Click Opera is particularly telling, and deserves to heard in full:

“I had a debate in my graduate seminar here in Japan about whether there is a causal relationship between smoking and cancer (which was somehow related to a paper we read about causal relations in channel management power struggles...beats me.) The prof was a hard-ass, long time smoker who had recently given up but wasn't sold on the links between tobacco and cancer, and preparing for class, we had to read this diatribe written by an ex-JT employee about how the anti-smoking brigades were all educated middle-class goody-goody effetes trying to make the lower classes feel bad about themselves. I started building a strong case against selling tobacco from a marketing perspective, and then one of the other profs said, "Yes, I noticed that in North America, they are all pretty much sure that tobacco and cancer are related." And it hit me: the Japanese do not even believe that smoking causes cancer. They think, hey maybe there is some correlation, but it's not proven yet. These were highly educated people saying things like "Well, when the link is proven, then we can make better decisions...” This is what happens when a government monopoly owns tobacco production for a long long time; no one in power benefits from anti-smoking campaigns. The guy that said that this is a way to ease the growing eldery population is on to something...But I have this feeling that the death rates in Japan from tobacco are not as high because they eat a lot less junk than Americans and thus have less incidence of heart disease.”

Interesting. In fact the situation is unfortunately a little more subtle than this. Again as shown on Click Opera, what has arrived here in Tokyo is the wolf in sheep's clothing, a sort-of avant-courier of faux-PC (i.e. JT’s latest add campaign).

"I can only assume it's a desperate attempt by the Japanese tobacco industry to demonstrate responsibility and make the case for self-regulation."

Early distant warning? Cries of too little too...soon? Perhaps, both, but at least no one is crying ‘Wolf!’ just yet, so JT can breath easy while it smothers public clarity with smoke and mirrors PR.

Well, if the health risk is negligable (again, referring to the smoking/longevity gap), why not just focus your agitprop on the ‘social graces’ of smoking? The North American version of an anti-tobacco add (naturally paid for by Big Tobacco) probaby reads something like: SMOKING KILL HUMANS DEAD! In Japan? Probably something like: Smoking can also become more festive and less icky. Which is more effective where? The following comments from various individuals were culled from Click Opera:

“I like the campaign, too. It's so removed from the American style of anti-smoking ads (pregnant bellies with cigarettes poking out of the navel and so on) that it might just be effective if they adopted it here.”

“I'd pay money to see an anti-smoking campaign based in New York that compared smoking to bumping into someone.”

“I think this is an excellent campaign for Japan, where politeness, and keeping within one's own space, is so valued. God knows what would work here, maybe "Woo hoo, you STINK!" ads?”


So what if we just pulled the old switcheroo at a national and international level, and secretly replaced the adds in North America with the adds here in Japan, and vice versa? Wouldn’t some kind of paradigm shift occur? Wouldn’t smoking be eradicated overnight? Wouldn’t...make a bit of different, but it might be a lot of fun to try! At least then the visually saturated add environments that makes our heads swim would be temporarly drained out. The only problem is that after breathing a collective sigh of aesthetic relief, everyone the world over would feel the need to go have a quick smoke, natch.

Not wanting to drag Heidegger into the fray, but...The almost totaly ineffectiveness of the SMOKING KILLS type adds in North America is surely due to a wealth of reasons, but among these one is paramount: Death and the imperceptibility of its impending nature. The argument is as simple as it is ignored by persons who wish to make a case against the current anti-smoking adds in North America as being useless. The idea that, in a gamble to win smokers over to the anti-smoking camp, to appeal to a person’s sense of finitude - i.e. their impending death which will be hastened by smoking - is to play a sort of trump-card is totally untenable. Such gambits fail to take into account such unspoken exchanges as...

Sign displaying anti-smoking message in North America reads: “SMOKING KILLS!”

Man who sees this sign subconsciously thinks: “Yeah, but in like, 30 years from now!”

This really speaks for itself. Although Death, as folks like Heidegger, Schopenhauer, and others have suggested (in markedly differing ways) is THE event of import in life, actually sensing the full weight of its impending nature is...elusive, to say the least. There are various arguments here, but basically the closer man approaches a lucid awareness of his non-infinite (at least corporeally speaking) nature, the more ‘meaning’ his life seems to have. The ‘real’ meaning doesn’t really matter, just the feeling of meaning ‘perceived’. Coversely, were some human to come into an infinitely long life-span, this may very well be the worst possible possession on earth - a kind of metaphysical White Elephant, if you will - as far as any kind of ‘will’ towards progress or development in concerned.

Sure, given an infinite ammount of time, the body could be sculpted into that of an Adonais, the mind into that of an Einstein, but why bother? Since there would literally be no harm in not-doing so (i.e. a premature death due to atrophy of the body, Alzheimer’s disease, etc.) Furthermore, on a daily, functional basis, this ‘distancing’ is basically the kind of mindset that humans enjoy/suffer from. With ignorance being bliss and all that, so ‘death inevitable’ hardly seems so. This writer sometimes ponders how an anti-tobacco sign that read more like a Domino’s Pizza add would go over: SMOKING KILLS IN 30 YEARS., GUARANTEED! (Or it’s on us!)

Below is a much better way to get red-blooded males to stop smoking...

So regrettably, there is even less resolve to change the actual smoking situation behind the Japanese adds that were recnetly displayed on Click Opera than North American adds that have been around for more than a few decades. Why is that? Well, aside from the public sentiment thing and the longevity in spite of/in the face of Death thing, there is also the non-reality of JT ever getting slapped with a big class-action lawsuit. In America this has already become a reality, but here in Japan, Big Tobacco knows it will remain a kind of cancer victim’s pipedream, at least for a long, long time to come. JT can look for the (much lauded) 'Japanese social harmony' (i.e. sheeplike social tendencies of the Japanese themselves) to keep potential plaintiffs hemmed in.

Not to get all expositional towards the end of a post, but if consider what just happened in China last month: The world’s largest tobacco museum opend in Shanghai. Situated in Yangpu District, the five-story museum houses around 150,000 exhibits collected from tobacco companies and smokers on the Chinese mainland and abroad. Seven display halls cover tobacco farming, management of the industry, tobacco culture and smoking celebrities. A display on the tobacco industry includes wax figures of tobacco farmers and workers in cigarette factories. It also includes several tobacco processing machines. A touch-screen display includes more than 10,000 cigarette packages. The exhibits include some smoking equipment, such as pipes and cigarette holders, used by famous people, like Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. (Liberal excerpts taken from a chinaview.cn article.)

What does all of this mean? In the world war of Asian Big Tobacco vs anti-tobacco forces, the recent developments in Japan are simply a strategic move, a ruse if you will. The real, the TACTICAL moves that are now all being made covertly and otherwise all indicate that China has been chosen as the battlefield for the final showdown. Things will get worse before they get better, at least for Asia.

Afterglow: The following liners were penned by a non-smoker who also not anti-smoking per se. There means by which one’s END may be expedited are legion, and tobacco is but one among them. Name your poison, but don’t name mine for me. This writer is simply pro-awareness, pro-education, and also pro the non-infringement of personal liberty...up until the point that said personal liberty begins to infringe on others who are trying to exercise this same right. So, until next time, as my friend Brad likes to say, ‘Smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em.’ Just not around me...

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