Thursday July 5, 2012
From the mouths of babes
So Aunty, So What?
By June H.L. Wong
Here’s a novel way to shame adult smokers into quitting.
YOU are enjoying a smoke on the sidewalk when a little girl comes up and asks you to light her cigarette. What do you do? Flick open your lighter for her? Tell her not to smoke?
I don’t know how Malaysians will react but Thai adult smokers universally refused to light the cigarette and proceeded to lecture the child on the dangers of smoking.
At least this is what an anti-smoking ad by the Thai Health Promotion Foundation showed. I stumbled on the Smoking Kid ad while browsing through YouTube and I must say it’s impactful.
The ad had a simple premise: “People know smoking is harmful to their health yet they ignore it. But how would they feel about a child smoking?”
So, the ad makers secretly filmed the adults’ reactions to a little boy or girl brandishing a cigarette, asking them for a light.
“Cigarettes contain insecticide,” says one woman to the angelic-looking girl.
“You look old when you smoke,” says another.
A 20-something man tells the boy, “If you smoke, you die faster. Don’t you want to live and play?”
A burly man in sunglasses even lists the diseases to the boy: “When you smoke you suffer from lung cancer, emphysema and strokes.”
As the commercial notes: Every adult filmed reminded the children that smoking is bad.
After being told by the adults why they won’t light their cigarette, the children then ask: “So why are you smoking?”
Before the nonplussed adult can reply, they hand out a folded leaflet that says in Thai: “You worry about me. But why not about yourself? Reminding yourself is the most effective warning to help you quit.”
The Thai Health Promotion Foundation hotline is added at the bottom.
The ad claims that almost every adult threw their cigarette away but all kept the leaflet. And the hotline recorded a 40% increase in calls.
Smoking Kid has been hailed as one of the best anti-smoking ads ever and it’s easy to see why. It is simple yet poignant and, most importantly, effective.
I got a lump in my throat watching this one-minute 37-second video. So far, it has received more than two million views.
It is touching to know that adult smokers still have the sense and decency to refuse to light a child’s cigarette, even advising them on the horrors of smoking. They knew it all, yet did not apply it to themselves. So, it was a wake-up call to them.
I don’t know how many kids were used to approach how many smokers on the streets of Bangkok to get a spike of 40% calls to the foundation, but what was captured in the ad spoke volumes. It was advertising creativity at its best.
I am also inclined to believe that it did shake up the adults and many might have decided to quit the habit after that encounter with the child.
I know how one little girl helped a long-time smoker quit. The child is my daughter and the smoker my dad.
During my daughter’s first year, my parents looked after her when I was at work. Dad, who was then in his 60s, had been a smoker for at least 35 years.
One day, he and my daughter fell ill with a terrible cough. My mum blamed Dad and his cigarette smoke.
Dad must have felt he was responsible because he decided there and then to quit for the sake of his granddaughter.
He hasn’t smoked since and he turned 85 in April. I like to think my daughter helped prolong his life.
The thing about smoking is that it is just not cool any more. It is literally so last century. Back in the 1950s when television was gaining audiences in America, there were ads that showed how “refreshing” it was to smoke.
Refreshing? More like revolting. The stale breath of a smoker is downright nasty and nauseating.
One of my worst travel experiences was being given a room in a five-star hotel that was impregnated with cigarette smoke from the previous occupant. I could not sleep the whole night as the smell made me quite ill.
One can only wonder how many cigarettes that previous guest lit up the night before.
Now I always insist on a room on a smoke-free floor.
In the last several decades, non-smokers have won many battles in the fight against passive smoking.
I am proud to say that I led a campaign in The Star in the early 1990s to ban smoking in the newsroom. I upset many of my nicotine-addicted colleagues but we prevailed and we finally got a smoke-free workplace.
Over the years, the Government has also been doing its part. Smoking was banned in cinemas as early as 1973 and in government hospitals and clinics in 1975.
Today, under the Control of Tobacco Product Regulations 2004, we have the right to smoke-free environments in many places, including places of worship, entertainment centres, public lifts and transport and air-conditioned eating places and offices.
Malacca has become the first state to gazette no-smoking zones beginning June last year; the latest zones being touristy Jonker Street and Jalan Kota. That’s a very savvy move.
It was also recently reported that the Health Ministry has collected more than RM4.497mil in fines from 18,000 errant smokers since 2010.
That’s all good news but I wish for the day when smoking is completely outlawed.
So far, only one nation in the world has done that and that is remarkable Bhutan. They didn’t need kids telling them to do the right thing.
> When this aunty started her career in journalism, the newsroom was dense with cigarette smoke and swear words. Both, fortunately, are things of the past.