Dying for a fag? Yes, says critic

August 30, 1996

Cigarette advertisers are capitalising on images of entrapment and oblivion, a Scottish academic claims.

Alastair McIntosh of Edinburgh University's Centre for Human Ecology argues +that the health warning "smoking kills" plays into the hands of advertisers who have traditionally followed Freudian understandings of sexuality, love, fear and guilt to sell products.

"Advertising has now caught up with the final and largely overlooked phase of Freud's thought. Here he attempted to explain human aggression including self-destructiveness by pointing to a death instinct. It can overwhelm us into morbid behaviour, into seeking the ecstasy of destruction."

Mr McIntosh has highlighted Silk Cut and Benson and Hedges advertisements for the tobacco manufacturers Gallaher, including one devised for the Edinburgh Festival showing bagpipes walking through a field of mantraps.

"What are these surreal ads saying deep down? Ads like the Venus fly trap plant ripping out a silk crotch, or the ants carrying away a gold B&H packet like carrion, or the pyramid tombs?" Mr McIntosh asked. "I think that they actually capitalise on the Government health warnings.

"At some level, some people just want to give up on life. The ads can be interpreted as saying 'If you want to be ravished into oblivion, then just submit blissfully into Gallaher's arms'."

A spokesman for Gallaher said: "Our view is that our Silk Cut and Benson and Hedges advertising speaks for itself. We let people put their own interpretation on the images." All advertisements were first cleared by the Advertising Standards Authority.

If the ASA had agreed with Mr McIntosh's interpretation, the advertisements would probably not have got through its vetting procedure.

"We believe the Silk Cut campaign is witty and imaginative and enigmatic," the spokesman said.

Mr McIntosh's work on tobacco advertising will be published in a University of Cardiff book edited by social critic Ivan Illich. The Centre for Human Ecologybecomes an independent academic network late next month following its effective closure by the university.

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