Author’s note: I wrote the bulk of this piece a few years ago so the commercials that I refer to are no longer in circulation.
There are a lot of big things in this world that trouble me: an ill-purposed war, oil gushing into the ocean for weeks on end, and the constant attack on reproductive rights, just to name a few. But there are tiny things, everyday things that most people don’t notice but to me, they make me think that something just isn’t right.
We’ve all seen commercials on TV and heard spots on the radio to stop underage smoking. The White Lies spots are great, but there is another one that, when I first saw it, raised my eyebrow. The commercial starts out typical enough with scenes of parents doing things with kids (fishing, playing catch, etc.). Then there is a voice-over along the lines of: “Talking to your kids about not smoking does not have to be as hard as it seems.” Cut to Dad playing ball with Son. “You know,” says Dad, “smoking will hurt your game, too.” “I know, Dad,” says seven-year-old junior. “I won’t smoke. I promise.”
Pause the TiVo for a moment. I probably said the same thing to my parents when I was little. Even after losing two grandparents to smoking-related issues and being in countless anti-drug campaigns in junior high and high school, I still took up smoking for a few years.* Now, I’m not saying that this will happen to every kid who promises not to smoke – it must certainly be effective to some extent, but let’s be realistic. It will happen to some.
Again, the voice comes over the image of Dad and Son. “To get help on how to talk to your kids about not smoking-” At this point, the viewers at home are all nodding, thinking that this is a great commercial and whoever is sponsoring it must be great as well. After all, they’re looking out for the next generation. “-go to Phillip Morris dot com for conversation starters today.”
Stop. Rewind. Play that again. Phillip? Morris? The Phillip Morris? The tobacco industry is giving us advice on not smoking? Here’s a piece of advice I’d like to give them: just stop making such a deadly product! If they’re that concerned about the health of a nation (and something tells me that they aren’t) then they should get out of the business entirely. Come to think of it, the whole commercial thing may be part of a settlement from being sued by all the people they made sick in the first place. Or maybe they’re trying to re-image the company so that when Son turns 18, he’ll remember what a caring and thoughtful company Phillip Morris was and buy their brand of cigarettes instead of the competitions’.
What’s next? Shall we turn to the makers of Jim Beam to teach us of alcoholism? Will they now be sponsoring weekly AA meetings? I know! The D.A.R.E. programs at school could be lectured by crack dealers while abstinence-only sex education can be taught by prostitutes.
These thoughts ran through my head one night while trying to fall asleep. When I woke the next morning to the radio, the DJ was promoting some event so my ears perked up. “Come join us at the McDonald’s in Broad Ripple” (aka: where the college kids go to drink). “We’re down here with the Diabetes Association-” My ears stopped listening as I mentally slapped my forehead.
We wonder why the youth of America is so messed up but I know it’s because of things like this. We’re sending mixed messages. Verbal message: Eat healthy and avoid diabetes. Image message: McDonald’s is healthy.
McDonald’s is anything but healthy and when I say this to most people, they say that McDonald’s is getting healthier options, like salad and milk. Salad with deep fried chicken strips on top? That kind of defeats the purpose. And while milk is ten times healthier than soda, soy milk would be even better as it’s not chock-full of hormones. The yogurt parfait? Anyone who saw Super Size Me can tell you that the ice cream sundae has less calories than the yogurt parfait. Something is definitely wrong here.
My overall feeling is this: if a company is doing something harmful to its consumers, then they should just stop doing it rather than trying to fix it after it’s way too late. Phillip Morris, stop making cigarettes! It’s not enough that you have a campaign to prevent youth from smoking. If it’s such a bad thing, then you shouldn’t be in the industry in the first place. And McDonald’s, if you are going to provide healthy options, then make damn sure they are truly healthy and drop everything that isn’t (as in, the whole menu).
We can’t just put a bandage over the wound and expect that to be good enough. We must medicate and treat the would for it to heal, yes, but we must also prevent more wounds from ever occurring. At the same time, we need to stop sending mixed messages to our youth now or before long they won’t be able to decipher what is right from wrong. We need to stop screwing over the next generation and start helping them to become well educated, free thinking adults.
*This is one of my greatest regrets in my life. It took a few tries but I did quit. I haven’t had so much as a craving for a cigarette in over three years.