To raise awareness about the perils of smoking, the Australian branch of Pfizer recently funded an installation at Sydney’s Martin Place featuring 219,000 imitation cigarettes under Plexiglas — the amount that the average pack-a-day smoker puffs over a 30-year period.
Dr. Peter Poggioli, head of communications for Pfizer Australia, said the fake cigarettes are made from paper, cotton wool, foil and talc.
“The paper is printed and rolled to create the outer case and filled with cotton wool at the butt to form the butt shape,” he said in an e-mail response. “Inside the cigarette is a small amount of talcum powder so the fake cigarette can be placed in the mouth and blown on to create a fake smoke cloud in the air. The end of the cigarette is filled with red foil to create the illusion that the cigarette is alight.”
People passing by the installation are encouraged to pound the Plexiglas with their shoes to show their support for “stamping out smoking.”
The anti-smoking installation, which will be removed by Friday, was created by the Australian PR company One Green Bean to raise awareness about smoking cessation. Although Pfizer produces a nicotine cessation prescription drug called Champix, Poggioli insists this campaign does not promote any product. “Rather, it aims to raise awareness about smoking cessation,” he says.
One Green Bean Managing Director Kat Thomas told Bandt.com.au that the aim of the unique experiential installation was to demonstrate the harsh reality of smoking.
“It’s shocking to see the amount of cigarettes the average smoker will get through in their lifetime, so we hope this will give [the people who see it] something to ponder as they step outside over the next three days, particularly those taking a cigarette break,” she said.
The result has been a firestorm of publicity from all over the world. But it’s left some smokers burning mad, like Gregory, a San Diego glassblower who would allow only his first name to be used.
“If I want to smoke, I should be able to do it without having public displays like this treating me like a child,” he said.
Gregory believes the anti-smoking installation is just another piece of anti-tobacco propaganda that is trying to force a cigarette-free worldview down people’s throats.
“I get stink eye from the neighbors if I want to smoke in my yard, and, worse, my kids have been taught to disobey me in the name of ‘public health,'” he said. “My son’s teacher harped about smoking so much that he flushed my cigarettes down the toilet.”
Gregory said it may seem as if Pfizer is doing a public service, but he claims the display isn’t only a commercial — it’s just as intrusive regarding personal freedom as putting a nativity scene on public property.
“How would a meat eater feel if some vegetarians set up a similar display with Slim Jims and beef jerky?” he asked.
Installation of cigarettes in Sydney
Another person fired up by the display is Nicolai Higgins, an information technology specialist in San Francisco who looks forward to “the first cigarette of the day.”
“It’s just a big [expletive] marketing campaign, designed to guilt people into buying their [expletive] ‘miracle cure’ to help you stop smoking,” Higgins said.
Though he finds the installation “excessive,” he said it doesn’t make him feel as if “everyone is on your ass like when when Obama decided to ban clove cigarettes, because ‘they’re flavored cigarettes and therefore appeal to children.'”
Still, Higgins takes umbrage with the idea that the average smoker will suck down 219,000 cancer sticks in a 30-year period.
“Tom Waits could knock that out in between closing time and stumbling off to pass out in a gutter somewhere,” he said.
To George Koodray, the president of the Metropolitan Society, America’s oldest cigar club, the display is indicative of a growing intolerance toward smokers.
“I support freedom of speech, and that includes the right to tell me not to smoke,” he said. “But not everyone who smokes becomes an addict. I had a cigar a few days ago; haven’t since then, and maybe I’ll have one tonight.”
Koodray fears that the demonization of smokers could be the start of other campaigns — or maybe it already is.
“Take the current administration, which is attacking obesity without taking into account that people have different body types. First, it’s smoking, then it’s obesity and then maybe they’ll go after other risky behaviors — like skiing!”
But not all smokers or advocates of smokers’ rights feel the Aussie display is offensive.
Gary Nolan, the U.S. director of the Smoker’s Club, isn’t bothered by anti-smoking displays or laws in public places, but he said it has to stop there.
“I don’t mind the government or people telling others not to smoke in public,” he said. “It’s when they take it upon themselves to ban it on private property, such as a home or a private business, that I have a problem.”
Although the display is being removed, the 219,000 fake cigarettes will be kept in a safe place until the next installation spot is determined. There has been no decision on whether it will come to the U.S.