While I’ve never been a smoker, I can think of something specific when I think about why I don’t smoke. It was a car, a red Chevrolet Beretta, which was owned by a friend in high school.
The car’s previous owner was a heavy smoker. And even though my friend did not smoke, his car still bore the scars of being a smoker’s vehicle. He likely got a discount because the thing just reeked of stale cigarette smoke. Every surface had a coating of yellow over it. It was disgusting. I remember having a visceral reaction to having to touch the stereo to change the volume. The idea that the interior of that car could potentially be replicated inside your body was an image so revolting that it scrubbed away any desire to smoke.
I think of that car whenever I read about a new anti-smoking effort, because pretty much everything has been attempted. The latest frontier is digital. The FDA in the US is sponsoring a new horror game called “One Leaves,” where one of four players will succeed in their effort to beat the game, based on the idea that three of four teen smokers continue on into adulthood. It’s an interesting idea, though I don’t know how effective it will be in curbing smoking.
As a teenager, I didn’t find any actual coordinated anti-smoking efforts all that effective. I found the ads laughably heavy-handed, I found that attempts to scrub smoking from entertainment and sports sponsorship mostly ineffective, and the only effect I observed from the more graphic cigarette ads were some smokers I knew asking for a carton of Low Birth Weights at the store.
But that car was extremely effective.
Why don’t they learn from that? Every anti-tobacco campaign can just take a car owned by a chain smoker and tour it to schools. Have a presenter point out the burns in the seat, the horrible aroma that the car lets off, the thick sheen of tar that crept into every surface. Every time I see someone smoking in a car I automatically judge the person inside because my mind flashes back to that Beretta. Don’t they know they could be turning their car into that Beretta? The fools!
But they haven’t seen that Beretta. Honestly I doubt that car still exists, because apart from the complete disaster of the interior, it was a Beretta owned by a high school student 15 years ago. The chances it still lives are thin to none. Besides, there were many attempts to clean that car up, even if nothing was particularly effective.
I feel sorry for the people who are charged with convincing people to stop smoking. Nobody actually wants to listen to them, and their message tends to fall upon deaf ears until it’s too late. But on the other hand, if every teenager saw a car like that Beretta up close, I don’t think anyone would smoke. It still stops me from smoking.