FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - February 7, 2007
Contact Audrey Silk, NYC C.L.A.S.H., (917) 888-9317
NYS DEPT OF HEALTH ADS MALIGN SMOKERS. SMOKERS' RIGHTS GROUP SEEKS THEIR WITHDRAWAL & APOLOGY
Among the constant nagging drone of anti-smoking commercials over-saturating the television airways these days at eye-glazing proportions are two ads that cross the line.
NYC C.L.A.S.H. has sent a letter to the newly appointed state Health Commissioner, Dr. Richard F. Daines -- with copies to a number of television stations -- respectfully requesting that his office cease and desist from airing these ads and issue a public apology (even if the ads are no longer running). As for the television stations, accepting those commercials was a poor decision.
Dubbed the "I'm Not a Smoker" series, running statewide (likely being shared among the 50 states' health agencies considering the history of such ads) on an undetermined number of local and cable television stations, and sponsored by the NYS Dept. of Health, these ads do not impart any advice or warning whatsoever about the risks of smoking.
Each features the "I'm not a smoker" statement throughout its monologue -- one with a shorthaired female actress and the other with the image of smoke and voiceovers. One ends with the screen-imposed text, “Admit it. You’re a Smoker. Stop While You Can.,” and the other ends, “Admit it. If you Smoke, You’re a Smoker.”
While NYC C.L.A.S.H. and its members respect the mission of government health agencies to educate and advise the public of the risks of smoking, and offer assistance to those who seek it, these ads are nothing more than a condemnation of the “sinner” (read smoker) not the “sin” (read smoking). The message promotes discrimination, not health. It surpasses the bounds of the offensive enough “socially unacceptable” and “denormalization” theme of the anti-smoking campaign. The message isn’t “I don’t do that”(smoke), it’s “I’m not one of THEM.”
The maligning of adults who smoke by a government agency charged with overseeing Public Health is an irresponsible and despicable deviation from its mission in a blind pursuit of its goals to eradicate smoking. This is an unacceptable display of intolerance where the ends justify the means.
Support for this accusation is clearly evident in the tone, content and context of the commercials. In addition to the aforementioned closing lines of each commercial there's:
- “I don’t (dramatic pause) look like a smoker […] I just don’t have that vibe.”
The wrinkle-nosed dramatic pause before “smoker” in the one commercial’s opening line is blatantly obvious in its goal to emphasize, with disdain, a person, not a behavior. The personal attack on one social class is further emphasized by the use of “look like” and “vibe.”
Stunned, C.L.A.S.H. founder Audrey Silk poses, "What, may I ask, does a person who smokes 'look like'?"
Those two words together used in this context has been deemed offensive by society when directed at other groups (i.e. “You don’t look gay.” “You don’t look Jewish.”). This ad flagrantly seeks to stereotype in order to insult.
In addition, a “vibe” is something that can be instinctively sensed. It is not an odor, a gesture, or poise. It is an aura. Not only does this commercial have the audacity to assign an intangible characteristic to “smokers” but its purpose is to grow the stigma being built.
- “My family would die if they knew I was a smoker."
Replace “smoker” with “gay.” The offense becomes self-explanatory.
- “I think when you start buying like a pack a day or a pack a week, then you’re a smoker.”
- “But it’s like one or two when I go out.”
At no time in this series of ads are the consequences or risks of smoking addressed. The purpose of these statements is to mockingly distinguish one kind of person from another, not warn of the behavior. Otherwise, in a public health message, one would expect to hear the warning “Even smoking two cigarettes a day is harmful.” There is no such warning at any time about the use of cigarettes in any amount. There is an utter lack of any public health message here.
- “I’m not a smoker.”
The commercial ends with that defensive protest – again with a tone of disgust assigned to the word “smoker.” Not “I don’t smoke,” but “I’m not a smoker.” Apparently, it’s not what you do; it’s who you are. “Smoker” in the pejorative in no uncertain terms. This, among the others, is a statement that practices in discrimination, not health or safety because it is void of any advice on health.
"Any public health authority who tries to defend it by claiming that the implied message intended is about the harm smoking may cause in any amount because the public is already aware of the dangers of smoking is speaking nonsense," Silk says, "because they argue the contrary constantly. Failing to state clearly that they mean to advise the viewer that it's not 'safe' to smoke even infrequently flies in the face of their own hand-wringing over the matter.":
Smoking just "1–4 cigarettes per day was associated with a significantly higher risk of dying from ischaemic heart disease and from all causes (both sexes), and in women, from lung cancer." "The results from this and other studies imply that smoking control policymakers and health educators should emphasise more strongly that light smokers are also endangering their health." (1)
Dr. Michael Cummings of New York's Roswell Park Cancer Institute -- an office closely associated with the NYS DOH and who receives research funding from them -- wrote in 2003: "[S]tudies... demonstrate that smokers as a group are less likely to perceive health risks from smoking compared to non-smokers." (2)
"Smokers have a very imperfect understanding of the risks of smoking and of risk statistics in general. Given the accumulated evidence, the argument that people begin to smoke or continue to smoke with adequate knowledge of the potential risks appears indefensible." (emphasis added) (3).
According to their own conclusions and beliefs smokers in general cannot be relied upon to perceive on their own the actual or all risks to their health or that even one cigarette a day is risky.
"As their own have said, it would be 'indefensible' to offer an explanation that the health risk message was implied because everyone already knows the risks," Silk concludes. "The target is undeniably the 'sinner' not the 'sin."
The goal in this series of ads is a deliberate creation of two social classes -- smoker vs. nonsmoker – in order to illustrate a divide in the pursuit of ostracizing and demeaning one. Representatives of public health have now appointed themselves the arbiters of social character; instigating members of society to agree with their decision that one group is inferior. In other words, advocating and leading the cheer for bigotry – whether it’s for nonsmokers to associate with or smokers to associate themselves with.
Due to the magnitude and gravity of the indefensible, unjustifiable, and illegitimate conduct of the NYS DOH it cannot be stated enough that there is no doubt that these ads were designed to inflame and incite intolerance, scorn, discrimination, and yes, hatred, toward one social class – not to teach the public that a certain behavior is risky to one’s health. This departure from Public Health’s mission is appalling, frightening, and dangerous.
Silk says, "Our predicament is that as a societal group – defined no less by the department's actions as indeed an identifiable group – with no official recognized class status we have no where to turn to file an official complaint about this misconduct this agency. We have no recourse other than to plead with the responsible party to police themselves – with the admonition that just because smokers aren’t an official class or can’t summon assistance elsewhere it’s no excuse, reason, or explanation with which to defend their actions or dismiss our concerns."
That smokers are not a Protected Class is no shield for violating the tenets of basic human decency and respect, or perverting the use of their office to advance bigotry of a social group under the guise of Public Health that society would not tolerate for any other group.
Silk concludes, "Absent any office we can turn to for assistance in our defense that other groups are afforded we’re forced to resort to implore you to recognize Right from Wrong – that just because you can doesn’t mean you should – and cease airing these ads and publicly apologize. Doctor heal thyself."
A copy of the full letter to the NYS DOH mailed on Thursday, January 25th 2007, can be found at http://www.nycclash.com/Complaint_to_NYSDOH-Jan_07.doc
(1) Health consequences of smoking 1–4 cigarettes per day, K. Bjartveit et al, BMJ Tobacco Control, July 2005 http://tc.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/14/5/315
(2) Book Review in BMJ's Tobacco Control: http://tc.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/12/1/111
(3) Smokers’ unrealistic optimism about their risk, N.D. Weinstein et al, BMJ Tobacco Control, 2005 http://tc.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/14/1/55
NYC C.L.A.S.H. is a grassroots smokers' rights organization dedicated to advancing, promoting and protecting the interests of adults who choose to smoke cigarettes and is well-established with the media. Among other efforts, C.L.A.S.H. has sued NY State and City in Federal Court over the smoking bans. ### www.nycclash.com