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Glamour smoking

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Saturday, Jan 28, 2006

From the great humanists at RJ Reynolds and its affiliated ad firms, who brought teenagers Joe Camel (and untold amounts of lung damage), comes a bold new program for enticing people to smoke. This AdAge story has the details about RJR’s new line of smokes and the attendant efforts to make it into an “experience good”: “RJR is introducing a new premium-priced line of smokes called Marshall McGearty, complete with an upscale smoking lounge in a trendy Chicago neighborhood. The lounge has fresh tobacco leaves and a tobacconist who will hand-roll a pack of cigarettes in any of nine flavors. The $8-a-pack price and the exclusivity of the brand—it can only be purchased at the lounge—is creating a buzz. And, perhaps, a new way of bringing a much-maligned product to market. ‘They’re trying something completely different. They’re openly trying to create an allure,’ said one industry analyst who asked not to be identified. ‘If it works, I can see the other companies lining up to try something like it.’ “


This is right out of the Experience Economy playbook; to sell a lifestyle and a pseudo-event instead of a mere carcinogenic commodity. The idea that cigarettes come in flavors, as if it were gourmet coffee beans or wine, is pretty absurd too—cigarettes basically taste like smoke, and the primary difference between them, when you strip away the marketing veneer, is in the rate at which they deliver the nicotine into your bloodstream. It’s no surprise the tobacco industry would try to connoisseurize the product, now that legislation is corroding the historic customer base—taxes are making smokes a de facto luxury good, something that requires a healthy disposable income, so it makes sense that it would be sold that way, as something that can secure you distinction—the function and utility of all luxury goods, ultimately. The cigarette as smoke-delivery system made tobacco conveninent—a portable, anytime commodity that was able to escape the smoking room, the 18th century coffeehouse, and integrate itself into the fabric of everyday life. But now it’s being expelled by government action from everyday life, and it’s only fitting that it will have to take up residence again in its own special lounges, become the activity itself instead of something you do while you are doing some other main activity: “Let’s go out tonight for some smokes!” “Sure! I’ll meet you at McHacalung’s!” This development, in which the government intercedes and forces a rollback of consumer convenience, could potentially be a model for how consumerism in general could be reigned in or redirected on the broader, society-wide scale. It seems like confounding convenience would be the lever.


The idea of these 20-something fashion victims standing around some smoky lounge waiting for some choad to roll cigarettes for them would be hilarious and rich with schadenfreude if it weren’t so sad, and if it didn’t bring back memories of my own smoking days. I rolled my own cigarettes for years—Roll Rich, Drum—but it didn’t make me feel cool; it made me feel like I was in jail. Nothing screams “cool” like picking tobacco shreds off your tongue; nothing is so appealing as tobacco stuck to your teeth.

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