Monday, 22 October 2012

Thank you for smoking (and also doing take-away)

Sometimes you watch a movie from the 1980s or something and they have this weird "hidden adverts", mostly about cigarettes $-$ things like when the camera indulges on the star of the movie fiddling with the packet and lighting up the cigarette. I suppose back then it was just another form of advert and in fact it wasn't much worse than the "normal" advert they were doing on TV, newspapers or Formula 1 cars. Like in the brilliant Thank you for smoking. 

Then, finally, somebody figured out that smoking actually kills (for example, David Spiegelhalter said in his documentary that "two cigarettes cost half an hour". By the way, I thought that the documentary was good, but not great $-$ may be my expectations were too high...) and governments decided it was time to ban tobacco advertisements.

I guess I was too young when they actually did that across Europe, so I don' exactly remember what the public and industry reaction was $-$ I seem to remember I didn't really care; but then again, I've never being fascinated with smoking; plus, back then I was still convinced I'd end up playing for Sampdoria and overtaking Roberto Mancini as their best player ever... 

Anyway, it all seems sensible: once we know (beyond any reasonable doubt and based on a series of scientific studies supporting each other) that something is a public health concern, then to limit its impact on the general population is the first thing a government should do, right?

Well, I'm not too sure: last week I saw this advert on TV. Apparently, there's this company that has a website which links together many take-away places, so all you need to do is give your postcode, select a type of food and choose your dinner from a wide range of menus. 

So far, (almost) so good. I suppose that there are things that are not OK with take-away dinners: for example, probably they increase the level of pollution (eg plastic tupperwares, plastic/paper bags, car fuel, etc). Still, on the other hand, they can't be all bad and if someone did a full economic analysis then they should factor in possible benefits (eg reduced level of pollution due to the fact that you don't do the washing up afterwards?). And to be perfectly honest, I quite fancy the occasional take-away too.

But the advert I linked above really stretches it too far! I think they are meant to be funny and ironic in telling people that "The tyranny of home cooking has gone on for too long" and that "Cooking is burnt fingers; cooking is complicated recipes you need a PhD in Advanced Foodolgy to understand; cooking is celeb chef endorsed gadgets you buy and never use; cooking is hours in the kitchen to end up with mush that looks nothing like the recipe photo (and probably tastes like the paper the recipe was printed on)".

If anything, I think that the advert is in bad taste [see where I'm going with this one? Food, bad taste... Hilarious, isn't it? I won't be a professional footballer, but may be there's still hope for a stand up career?]
I think that there is a real danger that the message comes up as serious, rather than a funny (?) joke. And I don't think that's something we want $-$ if there are concerns about obesity as a serious public health concern, probably putting in people's mind that cooking is bad and you should only eat take-away dinners is probably not the smartest idea...

Now, I think the company should be allowed to market its product $-$ after all, everybody should be free to decide what to eat. But equally, doesn't the government have a duty to control over the way in which people are bombarded with adverts on how to live their lives?

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