Looking Back on… Smoking part 2: The Truth sucks. (Commentary, 9/02)

“But perhaps the single biggest offender in all of this just came about recently, and that’s The Truth. The Truth has single-handedly turned a fairly simple anti-smoking campaign ugly, using blatant smear tactics, grotesque imagery, shock value, and insulting references to push their campaign against “Big Tobacco” using any means necessary. They are the single biggest example in the world today of “The ends justify the means” and frankly, I’m getting a little tired of it. Fine, smoking is bad, WE GET IT. But they keep shoving self-serving facts in our faces that are, at best, factual inaccuracies, and at worst, blatant lies, all while telling us the chemical composition of something we already KNEW was bad for us. They’re beating a dead horse with a spiky steel dildo while wearing backless leather chaps and nothing else, all the while telling us the horse raped our parents and would have raped us had we not killed it, and that’s just disturbing, folks. I’m sorry, it’s time someone told the truth about The Truth.” (I quoted this passage because it was about a month between posts, and I wanted to remind people in case the thirty or so readers I had forgot about this.)

For general reference, that was where we left off last week. The actual rant is in the archives, so if you blinked and missed it, there you go. (God forbid I tell you where it is exactly of course.) But to move this party right along…

The Truth. Born of the desire to spread the good word about Big Tobacco to teens, somewhere along the way The Truth decided that it was bigger than the sum of it’s (GODDAMMIT.) parts, and decided to attack Big Tobacco guerilla warfare style, with shock value ads, huge marketing, and a general lack of respect so blatant that people would sit up and take notice. (They’re also one of the groups that exists from the lawsuit against Big Tobacco that says BT has to pay a shitload of money into education and such. They’re not RUN by BT, though you’d be hard-pressed to tell at times.)

The only problem was, they were fighting a war that they lost from the first shot fired.

Alright, first, the roots. The Truth was established by The American Legacy Foundation, which more or less came to pass due to the Attorney General’s Master Settlement Agreement. Short form sum up, no cartoon characters for ads, no outdoor ads, no marketing towards kids, minimum pack size is 20 (WTF?), (I don’t honestly understand that one either, unless they assume that by buying less you assume you can’t get addicted or something.) and Big Tobacco pays a shitload of cash out to the States of the US to assist in education about smoking. In other words, Big Tobacco is financing Truth. Scary, no? Anyway, The Truth is founded to get the word out that Big Tobacco has been lying to you and telling you that no adverse effects come from smoking, when in reality, that was not the case. (If they were actually fucking doing that, we’d have no problems.)

Nice thought there. I so appreciate the sentiment, really I do. Unfortunately, I have to believe that as of this moment in time, it’s more or less wasted. For you see, for the past, let’s be generous and say 14 years, tobacco education has been very high on the scholastic education list. I spent something like a month every year on it when I was in school. A MONTH. We’re not talking a few days, that’s 20 days at the very least devoted to anti-smoking education. (As far as I know, it’s still a huge deal in school, and it probably should be.) I knew long before hand that cigarettes were deadly, that they can aid in the causes of cancer, that they destroy healthy tissues in your body, that they mess up your scent and taste buds, and so on. I’d have to say that The Truth was a bit too late on that front, all things considered. (And yet, I started smoking at eighteen anyway.)

Okay, they also seem to have a big thing about “exposing the lies Big Tobacco has told us”. Um, thanks, really, but no. See, if we’re generous and go back said 14 years, the tobacco industry hasn’t been able to lie about much of anything from that point of time onward, as we were all clued in to the facts around that point in time, and from then onward. (Yeah, that’s the one major thing that I’ve always thought was stupid; “The Truth” as a concept should, in their entirety, exist for one reason based on their mission statement and their fucking name, and that’s to tell the truth about the lies of BT… which we’ve all more or less known for years before Truth came about. I mean they’ve had the nickname “coffin nails” for a long-ass time people. If we’re being honest, the major reasons smoking has become less common in the US is due in part to the fact that we learned publicly how bad BT was lying about shit, and it’s been in decline since the sixties, which people like the CDC helpfully keep track of. Of course, Truth would argue, pointing at the student number, that smoking was on the rise until their campaign came into existence, and it’s been decreasing ever since. I would, then, counter argue that prices of cigarettes have skyrocketed since the late nineties, as have public bans, and if television campaigns really affected students, we wouldn’t have DVR. Oh, and Truth was started in Florida, so, make your own assumptions.) Absolutely, I think that tobacco companies saying they add ammonia to cigarettes for flavor is a blatant lie, (No, actually, that’s more or less the truth. Ammonia, among other things, highlights flavors, expands the volume of tobacco used, removes some carcinogens, and allows reduction of tar, among other things. Oh, and freebasing.) but COME ON! It’s ammonia! I DON’T think it’s there for any sort of healthy reason, y’know. You clean your floors with it, for Christ’s sake! Anyone dumb enough to REALLY believe it’s there for flavor NEEDS to be smacked. And I don’t think I needed The Truth to tell me that. (Considering that The Truth is, in point of fact, partially incorrect in their assessments, and that it was being used for taste improvement, it turns out that this was another misrepresentation they used for their own benefits. To put it another way, they could have said, “Ammonia is in cigarettes,” and that’s fucking terrible, but they had to go the “for flavor, yeah, right” route, which even the government states is a fact, so they took an actual fact and put the lie to it. The fact that money taken from BT for lying is put into campaigns that lie about them is definitely a form of irony.)

Okay, so what about the statistics? Statistics don’t lie, right? BULLSHIT! First off, statistics are collected on the SOLE BASIS of agreeing with whatever they were collected for. (Generally, yes. People who are independently funded and simply want to do science stuff will usually report on discoveries correctly, but most think tanks are funded for a reason, and will make their studies say whatever they’re told to.) The vast majority of people today don’t believe statistics; they buy into whatever supports their own personal opinion and dismiss the rest as biased. (Which, to be fair, I was technically doing at the time I wrote this.) Anyone who seriously believes in the stats The Truth broadcasts either does so because they don’t smoke and feel that it justifies their reasoning, or they quit and it strengthens their resolve. The vast majority of us don’t give a shit about numbers or facts, we care about the fact that these morons are broadcasting in time better spent on T+A or football or whatever. (I have no words.)

And as far as the statistics go, let’s run the numbers, shall we? Okay, Truth says 1,200 Americans die every day from smoking. (Which is a bullshit statistic, but whatever.) Truth says that’s more than AIDS, murder, suicide, fires, alcohol and all illegal drugs COMBINED. Truth says that 3,000 new customers, KIDS, no less, start smoking every day. Truth says 3,000 people die every year from second-hand smoke. You get the point. So let’s run the numbers, okay, if 1,200 people die every day from smoking, that sets us as… 438,000 deaths a year. Not too bad. Okay, so 3,000 kids start a day. Do the math there, and you get… 1,095,000 new smokers a year. (Which is also a bullshit statistic)

Um, what?

If you’re not seeing what I’m seeing, let’s toss in one more fact: Of ALL smokers who attempt to quit, only 3% succeed.

So, basically what we’re saying here is that the growth rate of smokers FAR outweighs the death toll? If that’s the case, based on THEIR OWN NUMBERS and the current US population, it would only take 250 years before the WHOLE DAMN US smokes. And that’s not taking into account the people OVER 18 who start smoking, as I’m sure that demographic is kinda high too. So, in essence, you’re saying that, by your OWN ADMISSION, your ad campaign isn’t doing anything but tweaking Big Tobacco’s nipples. Good to know we’re honest with ourselves. (So here’s the thing: Truth is using what essentially amounts to fishing nets to get the data they’re using. They rarely, if ever, cite their sources, as we’ll note in a bit, and the data they’re using is being worked over like a motherfucker. Basically, they can claim anyone who died and was a smoker was someone in their statistic, because they claim it as smokers who die every day, not people who die from smoking. Further, they can claim anyone who has had a cigarette once and admitted to it as someone who “started smoking,” even if they had one, once, and never again. That’s where you get numbers that say more people are starting to smoke than dying from it, and how they can report those numbers without feeling like they’re staring into the void. That’s also, by the way, how we get to “smoking has been decreasing yearly,” among other things, so they can say “WE WON,” even if the reality is they won with exaggerated numbers. That’s like patting yourself on the back because you did your part to prevent global warming when you called out from work.)

Moving on, 438,000 deaths a year from smoking. Not bad, as I said. (I mean, it’s bad, but as things that kill shitloads of Americans go, it’s a high number, so if that’s what you’re aiming for, be proud?) So, let’s do the math, once again. According to NDFA.org, the average death toll for the US is approximately 2.4 million a year. So, 1/5th of US death are from smoking. Uh-huh. I’m sorry, I find that a little bit hard to believe. (Again, it’s “you died as a smoker, so you count,” not “you died from smoking related illnesses caused by smoking.” It’s a small, but important, difference that lets them provide larger numbers than they’d otherwise have.) Okay, according to disastercenter.com, 250,000 people die a year from AIDS. I’m underestimating here, BTW. According to the SAME website, 220,000 people die a year by homicide or state intervention, IE death penalty. Let’s ignore the death penalty and halve that number to 110,000. (Two things. First, fuck to the no, there is no way in hell the US executed 110,000 people in a fucking year when we haven’t killed that many people fucking ever. Second, bearing that in mind, those numbers combined add up to more than the smoking deaths provided by The Truth, so fuck you, you’re super lying.) So, add the two up, 360,000 dead JUST FROM murder and aids. So, between suicide, fires, alcohol, and illegal drugs, The Truth would like me to believe I won’t find another, oh, 90,000 people. (Technically I just proved that I found the correct number of people and over-corrected at the time, so they just assumed that no one knows how to search the internet.) Suicide, BTW, makes up another 25,000 a year. Point being? The numbers are bullshit. Now, I know, as I said, no one buys into statistics except those that support their beliefs, but this is my point; that statistics can be easily manipulated.

I am of the belief that The Truth is counting every person who died that is a smoker, as opposed to those that died due to smoking. So, I’m glad to know that if I get struck down by the 7:30 bus that I will be used against Big Tobacco somewhere down the line. So everyone will be smoking in 250 years and it’s the biggest killer the US has ever seen, why hasn’t smoking been outlawed yet? Good question, no? (Because we tried that with alcohol, which was less addictive, and it didn’t work.)

And then The Truth would like you to believe that their risqué commercials are making a difference. Okay, to recap: It all started out nice and simple… a kid holding up an electronic billboard somewhere, displaying the facts. Simple, yet effective. Then, busting into Big Tobacco’s lobby, asking questions and getting booted out. Got the message across. Then, driving through a neighborhood, no doubt filled with tobacco execs, or so they say, at 2AM blaring over a PA system. Annoying, but amusing. (I rather sincerely doubt that there are these fucking communities where all the tobacco executives live, for reference, and if there were, people like The Truth would be kept the fuck out. More likely it was a stunt.) Then the 1 in 3 commercials, which made me laugh. Seeing someone bungie jump, open a soda, and explode was fucking hysterical, and I don’t see enough of that. (Yes, those were pretty rad.)

Then we got the body bags, and it all went to hell.

First, the body bag memorial. Using a fudged statistic to build a body bag memorial that the tagline for would be “If anyone finds this offensive, so do we”. Uh-huh. Then the skydiving body bags, the horse riding body bags, the CLUB HOPPING BODY BAGS, for Christ sakes, we get it! Smoking kills! Next topic already! (It honestly wasn’t even gross or horrifying, it was just really stupid.) Then we get the Infect Truth campaign. Man in rat suit crawling from sewer and dying in street with sign. Baby crying with sign. Numerous crawling, crying babies, with signs. Planes flying with signboards. Hanging tags on hotel doors about how deaths could fill said hotel. PUTTING SIGNS UP AS URINAL CAKES OR IN DOG POO! (There was, I should note, a period of time when Truth was off the radar for a while, and that almost certainly came about because of shit like this, that wasn’t even working, it was just stupid.) Christ almighty, do you people have NO common sense? And the newest one, with a jackass driving down the street, blowing exhaust substitute as a warning that CO2 in cigarettes kills. NO SHIT, so does that crap coming from your exhaust, asshole! I swear, they take a step forward and two steps back every time they do something new. (The Truth came back around with “Left Swipe That” recently, featuring a made-up statistic that “You get double the matches if you’re not smoking in your profile pics,” which first, they don’t source, and second, even if it’s true isn’t proven as a fact because it could well be that the people smoking also have neckbeards and fedoras or something. Still, fine, people find smoking in pictures disgusting, okay. It then launches into a video that is basically two minutes of Truth saying, “Discriminate against smokers!” in the most annoying way possible. Like, it’s one thing to say, “People find you less attractive if you smoke,” it’s an entirely different thing to say, “DON’T DATE SMOKERS,” because sorry, if we shamed drug addicts the way we shame smokers, you’d get fucking burned at the goddamn stake. There is seriously a section where Harley Morenstein from Epic Meal Time is sitting at a table, facing down enough greasy food to give him a myocardial infarction on the spot if he ate it all, complaining that a single picture of an attractive girl with a cigarette in her mouth, which isn’t lit because you can’t legally do that on television, smokes “like an old man at a race track.” I need you to understand, I do not give a fuck how you feel about this thing, it is discriminatory and insulting and if we did the same thing to fat people your house would get burned down, you do NOT have the moral high ground here, you are being a judgmental fuck and you need to shut the fuck up, fucking forever.

Oh, and by the way, Harley Morenstein also tells a wonderful story on This is Not Happening about being such a party animal and heavy drinker that he accidentally fucking drank GHB, blacked out in the streetand woke up in a strange man’s home, in addition to cooking with Deadmau5, who he seems to like despite Deadmau5’s heavy smoking habit, so, sure, this is a guy who has the right to criticize a woman for smoking. Also Anna Akana is in it, which is fairly hypocritical, and the fact that she probably doesn’t think so is more than enough reason for me to judge the fuck out of her for advocating proper treatment of people except those she thinks are gross. Just saying.

Also also, Ryan Gosling and Katy Perry have been spotted smoking, and if you’d swipe left on them you’re probably lying.)

The thing is, Truth as a whole is committing two cardinal mistakes every single time they come on TV: First, they’re fighting a losing battle. Most of the people that do not smoke have a valid reason as to why. Nothing difficult to understand there. Most that do smoke, had what they thought was a valid reason at the time. Again, not too hard to grasp. Truth is trying to educate both sides to something that, most likely, THEY ALREADY KNEW. (Right; it’s one thing to give people new information, but at best, Truth isn’t doing that, they’re just doing it in a “guerrilla” way.) I’m sorry, I was never under the impression that my cigarettes had Vitamin C in them or something, and not a single smoker I know doesn’t believe smoking is bad for them. What little they’re educating to us we learned in Health class in high school, so unless they’re aiming for the 30 and up crowd, this isn’t anything new. They’re throwing out information to the people who already know it and don’t give a shit about it anymore.

Second, they’re basically portraying themselves in such a blatantly derogatory light that they’re making Big Tobacco look like the victims here. Don’t believe me? Riding through someone’s neighborhood at 2AM with a megaphone. Pulling up in front of their office with a woodchipper and harassing passers by. Going to a convention with ammonia dispensers and harassing attendees. Asking us to open magazines to make the store employees have to close them up after we leave. Going into the buildings and harassing the secretary and security guard. (Yup, all true, all documented. They’re literally saying, “Be annoying fucks because killing smoking is more important than being a decent human being,” and even as, again, someone who hates BT, I can never empathize with that sort of “ends justify the means” mentality.) All they HAVEN’T done is beaten an exec with a blunt object. There’s a fine line between making a point and driving it into the ground with a sledgehammer. The point has been made, people. Expound upon it, or move on to a new point. Don’t keep beating the same point over and over until we get annoyed.

But perhaps the worst thing of all is that they can’t commit to themselves. Their official take online is that they are neither anti-smoking, nor pro non-smoking. BULLSHIT! You’re anti-smoking, period. (When they officially released a two and a half minute long music video encouraging people to reject smokers outright romantically they pretty much came out as “anti-smoking” and “anti-smokers” there.) Either shit or get off the pot, asshole. Don’t tell me that you’re a loving, caring group of people that respect us all equally, regardless of our smoking habits. You’re waging a verbal war against Big Tobacco. For God’s sake, don’t pretend I’m some sort of mushroom here; I know what’s going on, I know the score, just admit the facts and move on. Don’t try to blind me with political backtalk and peace and love idealistic crap, GIVE ME THE TRUTH.

But that’s really the point, isn’t it? The Truth is fighting Big Tobacco with their own tactics. (By which I mean, lying.) They’re taking it to them every which way they possibly can, every place they’re allowed, any time they want, because they can do it with no repercussions. They have nothing to worry about, after all. They’re government sanctioned, paid for out of Big Tobacco’s pocket, and given free reign to educate as they see fit. It’s a shame, truth be told… The Truth was once a simple, grassroots sort of movement that tried to pitch it’s (GODDAMMIT.) ideas in simple but effective methods. It’s now become like Howard Stern: blown way out of proportion, hugely over-rated, taking new and different paths that offend as they inform, all for the point of using shock value to get their point across, long after people stopped caring what the point WAS. (Oh, and they’re also opposed to e-cigarettes, by the by, to the extent that instead of advocating more education and knowledge about the long-term effects, they advocate eliminating online sales and offering flavor options that “might appeal to teens,” which… I don’t even know what that’s supposed to mean in context.)

Maybe Big Tobacco wasn’t so stupid, after all.

The world needs an enema. (Okay, soapbox time.

The single biggest issue I take with Truth as someone who used to smoke cigarettes regularly and doesn’t anymore is that, at the end of the day, they essentially exist in a way that they have a certain responsibility to others, and they use it in the shittiest way possible. They tout how they could help make this the generation that ends smoking, then do so by creating videos that shame smokers for their habits while pretending they’re not anti-smoker. They advocate quitting, but not studying electronic cigarettes to see if they offer an option. They advocate banning online sales of e-cigarettes instead of trying to fucking know ANYTHING, and that’s essentially the exact same stance Big Tobacco has albeit about PV devices. The article I linked above points out that we don’t fucking know how bad e-cigarettes could be, then in the next sentence, points out that Truth’s stance isn’t, “Let’s find out,” but rather, “Let’s just not do it at all.”

I’m not saying we should be pitching them to kids, but I am saying that, as someone who has almost entirely been cigarette free for eight months, fuck your regressive attitude, you scumbag fucks. You are doing the exact opposite of helping, and all you’re trying to do is say “WE ENDED SMOKING, YAY!” without any further thought to the situation. You lie with statistics, basically manipulate numbers to suit your own ends, advocate banning or restricting things over studying them, and almost entirely hold to the concept that knowing things is bad unless it comes from us. You’re… well, you’re basically fighting Big Tobacco with their own tactics, and if you’re okay with that, then fine, but you don’t get to pretend you’re the good guys because your drone strikes are killing the “bad guys.”

Just a thought.)

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