Marlboro Man, 2.0

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Look at this butch, beach-sun, back-lit bro.

Strolling down a February shoreline has never been so masculine-Noir. Champion of solitude and self-possession, our knight in shining Armani walks on toward an untold destination. As the chilly wind nips at his scruff, he pulls at both his collar and his Blu electronic cigarette – eyebrows cocked with a faux pensive confidence all the while. Chambers of silver smoke shoot from his nostrils, and as he looks the camera head on, his gruff cheekbones and deep brown eyes assure America that he is, with the help of his smoking habit, the coolest person in the whole world ever.

Ladies and Gentlemen – meet Marlboro Man 2.0

When I first saw the commercial for Blu electronic cigarettes featuring the man above, I was  in Times Square, New York City. I have seen it on my television at home several times since, but there was something about that first time. There was something about looking up at a god-knows-how-many-pixel screen alongside thousands of families to see a million dollar advertisement promote “nicotine refreshments” that really made me cringe. It felt uniquely strange, and I realized that never before in my life had I seen a television commercial glorify cigarette culture. That was, luckily, a phenomenon eliminated far before I was born.

Advertising for tobacco products on television and radio was banned in 1971, and there has been a constant battle between Big Tobacco and the FCC ever since. As recently as 2010, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act prohibited tobacco companies from sponsoring sporting, music, or cultural events, virtually eliminating explicit tobacco promotion from anything the public might see or hear. The cultural endorsement of tobacco products once seen everywhere – which successfully presented a malignant habit as a masculine one – was eradicated from the media long ago, and for good reason.

Advertising appealing to young males, which displays cigarette smoking as tough yet sophisticated habit, is a frighteningly successful strategy. Take the original Marlboro Man, for example.

marlboro man

Marlboro Man was first introduced as an advertising strategy in 1955. In just the first two years of his existence, his rugged demeanor increased Marlboro’s sales from $5 billion to $20 billion: an increase of 300%. The trend only continued. Marketing specific to young men quickly spurred an epidemic of cigarette culture which has only recently been beaten back. My short lifetime has witnessed the disappearance of smoking in bars, in restaurants, in many hotels, in just about anywhere that is not outside. Tobacco on school property is a serious crime, and programs are brought in to schools by the dozens each year to inform students of the life long dangers of nicotine addiction. All of this success and recovery is threatened, however, by Marlboro Man 2.0 and the electronic cigarette campaigns which created him.

Electronic cigarettes as a concept are not the problem. Although not regulated by the FDA they are, for the most part, less of a health risk than conventional cigarettes, and they provide a viable medium of emancipation from nicotine addiction. Unacceptable, however, is the advertising strategy employed to sell them, which through the use of flavored vapors and commercials like Marlboro Man 2.0 is blatantly aimed at young adults. As the results of this resurgence of smoking culture in the media begin to appear, it is clear that this nefarious marketing scheme should be addressed by law sooner rather than later. Electronic cigarette use and, consequently, conventional cigarette use has increased significantly in the last five years according to the CDC, with the use of electronic cigarettes among middle and high school students doubling between 2011 and 2012. These and tens of other similarly troubling statistics reflect not only a misguided appreciation of smoking, but a lack of appreciation for its terrible consequences among America’s budding adults.

For this reason, electronic cigarette advertisements, which promote the pernicious rut of nicotine addiction, should be banned from all types of mass media. If electronic cigarettes are to market the same skewed view of smoking as conventional cigarettes, they should face the same social elimination as conventional cigarettes as well.

It is important that we as a society perpetuate the truth to our youth: that smoking culture is a culture to be admonished, not admired. The families of Wayne McLaren, David McLean, and Dick Hammer – the three Marlboro Men, each of whom died of lung cancer before the age of 60 – would say very much the same thing. There is no glory or fashion in the culture of smoking smoking, electronic or not, and to advertise otherwise is a perversion of reality. To do so before the vulnerable eyes of youthful future generations is especially immoral.

If we are to learn from the societal disaster enacted by the original Marlboro Man, we must end his 21st century counterpart before it is too late.

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