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The Production of New Meanings:
Smoke Now and Forever Hold No Peace
by Melissa A. Guido
As a reformed smoker for the past five months, I have paid close attention to the media wars brewing over smoking issues. Its harmful health risks have been scientifically proven, law suits have been won to recover government Medicare expenses associated with smoking related health care, the Joe Camel cartoon has been banned due to youth appeal, and new FDA regulations on the advertisement of tobacco products are to be implemented in the near future, but the market is still flooded with willing consumers, maybe even more than before, and tobacco companies have developed new marketing strategies to cope with the bad publicity. The recent questioning of values associated with smoking has caused the tobacco industry to develop new meanings and value systems by marketing different representations of individuality, opposition to authority, and freedom to choose than they had before.   As this strategy is accepted and affirmed within the mass market and society, a new culture is being created. This is reflected in an interpretive analysis of current advertisements and related media text. 

It seems obvious that the ideologies behind the tobacco industry are purely for profit, and this profit is widely used to gain and maintain power. In the mid-1990's, it was revealed that tobacco companies have known about the addictive nature of nicotine since the 1950's, and that this information, along with the tobacco industry's use of ammonia to enhance the nicotine levels and addiction, was withheld from the public (Campbell p. 331).  In 1964, the Surgeon General of the United States reported that there may be risks associated with smoking, but little was done to promote the issue. It was not until the mid-1980's that the Surgeon General's warning was posted on all tobacco products. During the 1996 race for the Presidency, at a campaign rally in Virginia, Bob Dole was quoted as saying that smoking was not addictive. It takes a lot of money, power, and influence, that involve both political and media forums, to delay the public exposure of the scientific discoveries correlating smoking and health risks for so many decades. 

But during the spring of 1997, scientific proof was presented and confidential documents from the tobacco companies were revealed to support the factual health risks associated with smoking tobacco products. In the June 1997 issue of Time, an article "Sorry, Pardner," by Jill Smolowe, reported that: 

Philip Morris Companies, RJR Nabisco Holdings Corp., B.A.T. Industries, PLC's Brown & Williamson, and Loews Corp.'s Lorillard had reached a settlement with the attorneys general of almost 40 states for which they will pay $368.5 billion in compensation, drastically alter their marketing programs, and submit to the regulatory heel of the FDA (p. 25).
Among new FDA regulations is the ban of ads with cartoons, good-bye Joe Camel, and also bans on billboards, at stadiums, on the Intemet, paying for product placement in movies, and larger warning labels with harsher language, all to be implemented in the near future. This is predicted to be the strongest blow to the mass marketing strategies of the tobacco industry. It is also the end of any questioning of the risks associated with smoking cigarettes. 

And with this new revelation and constriction of tobacco marketing, what will tobacco companies do next? In the past, tobacco manufacturers have tried a number of strategies to enlist new consumers for their market. Smoking has been sold as sex appeal, social status, masculine, feminine, youthful, exciting, and so on. It has become a common element in our culture for generations, reflected in advertisements, movies, magazines, and an array of other mass media outlets. But now the rules have changed, and so will our culture as new meaning is being produced out of recent events. 

Out of the controversy over smoking, exposure of scientific truths, and the tobacco industry's fall of power, new representations and values are being established through paradoxes that are being enhanced then marketed by tobacco companies. The paradoxes are the individual as opposed to society, free will contrary to known risks, and rebellion against authority. I have identified these representations from my interpretation and analysis of the following advertisement. 

In the November 1997 issue of Rolling Stone, a current four page advertisement for Camel cigarettes replaces the colorful icon of Joe Camel with a fuzzy black and white photograph (btwn p. 64-65). Page one shows a close-up of a lone man sitting at a poker table with a burning cigarette held deep between the index and middle finger of his left hand, poker chips poised in the same hand, and a ring worn on the index finger that depicts camels encircling it. Half of the man's face is hidden in shadow, the other side dimly lit. The Surgeon General's warning "Quitting Smoking Now Greatly Reduces Serious Risks to Your Health" is at the top right corner of the page. 

The second and third pages are a spread, also with a fuzzy black and white picture, with a poker table, poker chips, and an ashtray on it. Two disembodied hands are shown deep in shadow, with the one on the left noticeably holding playing cards. The man sits across the table, holding five cards, cigarette dangling from the right side of his mouth. His face is well lit (an attractive yet average looking face), and he is looking to the hand at the left, holding the playing cards. The same Surgeon General's warning is repeated in the bottom left hand corner of the page, and above it in small type is the statement of "11 mg. tar, 0.9mg. nicotine av. per cigarette by FTC method." 

The fourth page is an extreme close-up of the lone man holding the cigarette to his mouth with his right hand, his face half in shadow, half well lit, a 2-day whisker growth, and a caption that reads "What you're looking for," with a picture of a pack of Camel Light cigarettes next to it.  

This advertisement tells the story of a new era of cigarette marketing, and the prelude of the development of new value systems in an ever changing culture. Page one of the ad makes use of the darkness and shadow of the black and white picture. It emulates the dark side of the industry that has been revealed to the public, and the negative connotation related to smoking. The lone man represents the individual and his free-will. His posture is cool and relaxed, yet has a somewhat dangerous appearance. The left hand that holds the cigarette and poker chips symbolizes the gamble and risk taking with your health that smoking is now proven to cause. The ad shows no label or title, and the only indication of the brand name of the cigarette is in the design on the ring he is wearing that is encircled with camels. The Surgeon General's warning "Quitting Smoking Now Greatly Reduces Serious Risks to Your Health" was specifically chosen to compliment the image. The message to the consumer is "Are you willing to gamble with your life? You know the risks, now make a choice." It seems like a challenge to the consumer to defy the known risks, society, and the authority of the Surgeon General, and succumb to the immediate gratification that smoking provides. 

The image on the second and third page spread of the ad is of the man playing poker with the disembodied hands. I have established the man as an individual gambling with the high stake risks that smoking is known to cause. The man's face is now lit, but the hands are presented in shadow. One hand embodies the health risks the individual is betting against. The hand is without cards because it portrays the image that the cards have already been played, the scientific facts that support health risks related to smoking have already been put on the table. The second hand, the left one holding the cards, portrays the authority of the Surgeon General and FDA who are playing a large hand against the tobacco industry and the smoking population (and have won billions of dollars and control of tobacco marketing in the game). At the bottom of the page, under the left hand, is the repetition of the Surgeon General's warning and the tar and nicotine levels. This image symbolizes the faceless players in the game provoking the individual to "hold or fold," stay in the game or quit smoking. 

The extreme close-up of the lone man smoking the cigarette on the fourth page of the ad answers the dilemma. It declares "What you're looking for" with the pack of Camel cigarettes next to it. As a whole, the ad makes implications to the dangers of smoking while it also defies authority and the conventions of a health conscious society, proposing individual free-will to make the choice to gamble with life or be a quitter. But if you're already hooked on the habit, then there are no choices to make, because they have already been made for you by the tobacco companies and the addiction they created. 

In light of the recent upheavals in the tobacco industry, and their new qualifier of "Now you know, so do what you want, but do what we want you to" approach to marketing, how will this representation of values be recognized in culture? Only time will tell. Will the new process result in a different product? Using the advertisement as a metaphor for what has taken place recently in the tobacco industry and the position that marketers and consumers have been placed in by these events, the process of communication and the resulting product are altered. The market can rely on their established cigarette consumers for current revenue. They're the ones that were hooked under the old tobacco regime and amount to over 60 million people. But the industry's survival depends on the recruitment of young smokers and that has been recently curtailed by the FDA. Also, ranks of smokers are trying the newly accessible products for quitting the addiction, and anti-smoking campaigns that are launched could permanently steal what influence is left in the hands of tobacco companies. 

The tobacco industry and affiliated companies will not go away so easily after withstanding all that they have been through and will become accepted and affirmed in culture as dangerous. Cigarettes should never be advertised in anything but a shadowy back room again, but marketing advertisers will find a way. And they already have, like in the Winston advertisement in the same issue of Rolling Stone (p. 14-15). In the ad, an old man in his underwear and T-shirt is standing on his front porch. The caption reads, "You have to appreciate authenticity in all its forms." Winston is promoting the fact that they don't use chemicals to enhance the nicotine levels in their cigarettes with an image of a geezer in his skivvies. Well, if that doesn't sell cigarettes, then I don't know what will. The ad also denotes the "tar" levels as 16 mg., and 1.1 mg. of nicotine average per cigarette. It is the evolution of consumerism and altered representations that have become the misrepresentation of disclosure. 

A duality is being created by the differing representations and reproductions of meaning within the tobacco market during this social reconfiguration of reality. There are established and undeniable facts that are scientifically, politically, and socially supported. Then there are the values of individuality, free-will, and seditiousness toward authority that are exploited to market the addiction of smoking. And tobacco companies do this with a vested interest in profit and no respect or value for humanity. But many have already been lured by the drug and trapped by the addiction, so the current propaganda is of little significance to them. Many of the established smokers will convene to feed their addiction out of spite, denial, or the proposition that the damage is already done. And the attraction of smoking to the youth can only grow as it becomes more of a forbidden symbol of rebellion like marijuana and other cool and dangerous drugs. With pending full implementation of new FDA restrictions, the tobacco industry is testing the "cultural waters" with revised marketing strategies through their newly limited communication outlets. Will their tactics work and become naturalized into culture and society? Or will the new restrictions and anti-smoking campaigns gain enough power to dramatically influence culture and create new meanings that support the ideologies of humanity, rather than the ideology of wealth at the expense of humanity? 

Works Cited

Campbell, Richard. (1998). Media and Culture. New York: St. Martin's 

Smolowe, Jill. (1997, June 30). "Sorry, Pardner." Time, 25-29. 

Camel Light cigarette Ad. (Nov. 1997)1 Rolling Stone, pp. 14-15. 

Winston cigarette Ad. (Nov.1997). Rolling Stone, pp. 14-15. 


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