The Graphic Nature of Today’s Anti Smoking Commercials

By Walvis

On April 29th, I’ll be boarding a plane from Texas to Tennessee to visit my mother. It may very well be my last time to see her.

In February, a fall in her home led to a hospital trip. The news? Extensive Stage Small Cell Lung Cancer. Extensive, meaning that, even though this cancer began in the lung, it had “jumped” and made a more threatening home in her brain.

It would be impossible to discuss this any further without mentioning smoking.

To any smokers reading this? Hey, I’m not your enemy. If cancer, and a host of other illnesses that we don’t even hear about everyday, wasn’t a threat, you’d find me very occasionally enjoying a cigar.

And, being an “old soul” who appreciates the “film noir” era of Hollywood… I can still find the poster image of Rita Hayworth using smoking in the manner of a “prop” to be indescribably alluring.

But, the reality is that smoking does exact a toll. A deadly toll.

Again, I am not expressing my views to attack smokers. In fact, I know many smokers who, themselves, will be the first to tell others not to fall into the trap that they are in.

There has been a recent surge of new anti-tobacco television commercials. Commercials that many deem as too graphic for the teen audience being targeted.

One of the newer commercials is fairly typical. A man is shown alone in his kitchen… the darkness suggests that it’s nighttime, and instead of sleeping comfortably, he is sitting in his wheelchair. Suffocating, with emphysema.

Another commercial shows a once beautiful lady having to “get ready for the day”.
The false teeth she puts in are needed because the radiation therapy for her throat cancer destroyed her teeth and gums. The wig she puts on is for the hair loss she encountered during chemotherapy and radiation.

This commercial does hit a little harder than the aforementioned one. Instead of the typical coughing and gagging, this lady is shown looking at herself with a disgusted, angry expression at what she’s having to see in the mirror.

One more commercial shows a man attempting to shave carefully enough to avoid the hole in his throat, or stoma. I personally don’t find these commercials too graphic.

On the contrary, if the goal is to scare the youth away from smoking, these latest anti-smoking commercials should definitely leave a lasting impression.

But, the problem I’m finding is that even as the graphic nature of these ads increases, the ads are still only focusing on the same, narrow spectrum that has been focused on for decades.

Holes in throats.
Coughing and suffocating.
Wheelchairs.

Looking back to my own teen years, when someone mentioned lung cancer or emphysema, my mind’s “tape” played back a person coughing and needing oxygen.
No biggie, you’d just cough all the time and be miserable.

Unless a teenager has to face the suffering and eventual loss of someone to one of these diseases, they probably won’t see just what all these diseases really do involve until they’re a little older.

My mother was a very stubborn, independent, determined person. If she wanted help moving a heavy couch, and you kept her waiting for too long?  She would get that couch moved all by herself.

My mother may have acted aggravated, but in recent years, she has admitted a very amusing truth. She always took a certain pride in doing strenuous things that seemed above her level of ability.

My mother also always possessed the nature of a hermit… a hermit with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. In other words, she has always liked to be alone. Privacy was her best friend.

She had certain rituals and routines that she preferred carried out the same way daily.

Amidst all of the chemotherapy and radiation, and the inclusive side effects… my mother is more upset by her lack of privacy, and the loss of her independence. She has to be told when to take medications. A video monitor has been installed, so that my sister can view my mother’s bedroom from elsewhere. Bathroom privacy is gone. My mother can’t walk to the bathroom alone, and beyond that, she needs help sitting up, to avoid falling forward.

Someone is in her home… watching almost every move she makes… every hour… of every day. Her independence has been reversed.

This morning, my 5 year old daughter asked if she could have a piece of bacon to go with her other foods. I looked over, and saw my daughter sitting there, buckled into her booster seat which is still needed for her to adequately reach our kitchen tabletop.

“Damn. My Mom has to sit back and ask for stuff now, instead of just being able to get up and go get it. She’s no different than one of my kids.”

There is a fine line between negativity and realism.

The odds are very high that my April 29th flight will be the last time that I get to see my mother. When she was diagnosed in February, she was told that without radiation and chemotherapy, she would have died within a month. As of a week ago, her tumors have not grown. But, they haven’t reduced in size, either.

She continues to smoke.

And, yesterday, she told my cousin that she is considering not continuing these treatments that are making her weak and nauseous.

I’m the youngest of 4 children.

Even in all of her misery, my mother has voiced to the rest of the family that she wants to feel and look better when I fly in… so that I won’t be scared and worried and sad when I see her. The other day, I was described by her as, “fragile”. While that may be true, I also am highly resilient. I’m also a good actor.

Could a 60 or 90 minute commercial be created to show this side of smoking related illnesses?

The tenacious woman who now must be handled like a needy child?

The private loner who now has 24/7 surveillance in her own home?

Me, afraid that my mother will die before my April 29th flight?

There’s going to be a lot of crying, in private.

I’ll probably have to stop mid-step a few times before I enter my mother’s house, to be sure that I’m not going to start crying in front of her.

Inside the house, the act will begin. Before I sit down, I’ll probably walk in and use my little hand-held squeeze toy… “The Pooter”. It’s better than a whoopee cushion.

“Oops, hope ya don’t smell that!”, I’ll say, flashing a forced smile that I hope covers up the fear and worry that I’ll be trying so hard to hide.

Could a television commercial capture, in a minute and a half or less, what two people such as my mother and myself are going through right now? That’s a very doubtful possibility. And, that’s a shame.

Coughing and the inability to breathe definitely look scary. But, if I were still a teenager, I’d be likelier left with a haunting fear of smoking if I could, instead, see all of the changes and disruptions to a daily lifestyle.

But, until such drama can be expressed in a short commercial… I say, “yes” to the increasingly graphic nature of anti-smoking commercials.

Walvis is a singer, and therefore prefers clean air… along with an occasional brownie from Starbuck’s.

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