World No Tobacco Day: medical student rides as the singing Marlboro Cowboy in a campaign against tobacco advertising
On World No Tobacco Day, medical students who are part of the multinational organization Education Against Tobacco (EAT) are planning a horseback ride through the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, in a call for a ban of all tobacco advertising. Last year they stood in the same place, when the group was awarded the Bundespreis by Angela Merkel for their initiative. The gallop is now continuing towards the Berlin central railway station. One of the medical students, dressed as the Marlboro Cowboy, gets off his horse, sits down by a colleague by an artificial camp fire, and sings his own composed song through the microphone (play online).
The cowboy is medical student Titus Brinker, the founder of the largest worldwide lobby group against smoking. In Germany, Austria and Switzerland alone, over 700 medical students from 31 different faculties are part of the organization, which aims to educate schools students from a young age about the issue of smoking, but in an age-targeted way (gegentabak.de). The organization is also active in three other countries. Last year in June, Angela Merkel awarded EAT with the Bundespreis, in almost the same spot as they are now – in the Federal Chancellery. Titus Brinker says, “For me and all protesters here, it’s clear that as much as we can achieve through educating people about the consequences of smoking, nothing will be more effective towards changing our society’s smoking habits, than banning smoking advertising. A volunteer-based project like EAT, even with funding and support from a 5000 euro worth national prize, will never stand a chance against the billions of euros spent on marketing expenses by the tobacco industry in Germany each year.” Germany is the last country in the EU, in which cinema advertising past 6pm and outdoor advertising for tobacco products is not subject to any restrictions. According to the 2013 WHO report on the global tobacco epidemic, around one third of adolescents take up smoking as a result of advertising.
David against Goliath
Titus wrote a letter to the Federal Chancellor, and more than 700 medical students who are part of the initiative agree for the letter to be sent to Merkel (gegentabak.de/brief). “Without public pressure however, there’s no point in pursuing this further”, says Titus Brinker. “Almost every school bus stop in Germany is covered with cigarette ads, which promote the association of positive images, like a romantic kiss or a guitar player by a campfire, with smoking. Through this kind of classic conditioning, the media is subtly conveying to young people, that cigarettes contribute to positive life experiences. This is an untruth that we regularly see take its toll both during our medical studies, and even more later on as doctors.”
Adolescents, like Pavlov’s Dogs, are being classically conditioned towards smoking.
The organization Education Against Tobacco (EAT), advocates for the right to informed decision-making about smoking, and has criticized the fact that the information young people are being exposed to is false advertising. “In Germany alone, seven million people suffer from chronic obstructive lung diseases, which are incurable, and in over 90% of cases, caused by smoking. We don’t want today’s school students to be the next generation to replace these dying smokers.
Decreased smoking rates amongst adolescents in Germany?
Brinker smiles wearily: “According to the KiGGs German Health Interview and Examination Survey for Children and Adolescents from 2014, over a third of 17-year-old school students still smoke. Unfortunately, I am yet to find this data reported in any press release. Instead, it seems that in the last years we’ve been applauding the fact that only around 10% of 12-17-year-olds still smoke, and the data is telling us that the starting age for young smokers is relatively high, instead of reporting on any relevant reduction in tobacco-caused diseases. According to the American Lung Association, around 50% of todays adolescent smokers die of tobacco-related diseases – I don’t believe that we should celebrate these numbers as a success.”
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