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Too cool for school?

At the ripe old age of 11, I decided that the fastest way to manly cool was the futuristic brushed metal and black packaging of the newly launched Lambert & Butler cigarettes.

Don’t mock; it was 1978.  In a time when Roger Moore somehow got away with playing James Bond, electro-pop meant the Electric Light Orchestra and fashionable men had centre partings, it wasn’t just my idea of cool pre-teen rebellion that was a bit misplaced.  And I really needed to rebel, because my mum wouldn’t let me see Grease.
Cool may have moved on – or even gone full circle – but the reasons teenagers take up smoking are still pretty much the same.  It’s cool, and it’s for adults only.

So it’s not exactly breaking new ground to assume that, if we want fewer teenagers to take it up in the first place, we need to knock a big hole in the cool image smoking has for the young.

It’s great to see governments like the Welsh Assembly getting to grips with what happens at point of sale.  Pricing signs and packaging and are all part of the visible presence of tobacco products and can be used to reinforce brand identity – after all, it worked on me back in the day.  Eliminating vending machines is a good step too; machines don’t check your age or grass you up.

But what any drive against teenage smoking also really needs to do is address the basic reason kids want to take it up in the first place; that puffing away is seen as cool by every new generation.

The Scottish NHS ran a campaign a couple of years ago that attacked this head on.  It ran two poster designs (with TenNine in schools and colleges across Scotland) which made it blindingly obvious that smoking makes you smell bad and gives you a mouth like an ashtray.  And anything that makes a teenager feel (even) less attractive can’t be that cool.

I’m not sure if those posters would have made my 11-year-old self think twice or not; I would probably have wanted to see what all the fuss was about anyway.  But a few years later, when I hit 14, I’d really have taken notice.

It might even have helped me to give up 20 years earlier.


  1. Steve says:

    When I was a teenage smoker, I chose my brand purely on the colour of the boxes. JPS were my starting point as it was in a cool black box but I quickly moved on to Benson and Hedges because it was a gold.

    I know there has been talk about removing colour and brand identity from cigarette boxes and personally I think that will make a huge difference in putting young people off starting smoking in the first place.

  2. Stewie says:

    JPS at 16, Marlboro at 18. Gauloises at 20 to really stand out!

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