Japan Tobacco's Delightfully Disturbing 'Smoking Manners for Adults' Ads, Part 1

Japan Tobacco (JT), like most cigarette companies today, is concerned about the image of smokers and smoking in modern society. In an effort to improve said image (but NOT discourage smoking, of course), the company commissioned a series of over 70 public service announcement style ads. All of the ads were rendered in the same green-on-white, simply drawn format. It's the messages they seek to send that are so intriguing... and so reflective of the Japanese psyche.

These ads were displayed in a wide variety of formats ranging from placards in the subway to postcards to drink coasters. Every one of them is slightly odd in its own way - at least to a non-Japanese such as myself. Here are ads 1 through 10. They are presented along with commentary by yours truly. I'm as amazed and amused as you probably are!

1) "A lit cigarette is carried at the height of a child's face."

It's not what's shown on the sign that scares me, its what it implies. Remember that old mother's cliché, "you'll put someone's eye out with that thing!"... well, the "thing" is the red-hot end of a cigarette and the "eye" belongs to an innocent, rosy-cheeked child. You make the connection. Or as the ad urges, DON'T make it. Smoke carefully, a child's sight may depend on it! Oh, and the helicopter in the upper right corner? Don't ask me, I was hoping YOU knew.

2) "I threw my cigarette butt into the drain. That is to say, I hid it in the drain."

This one throws ME - for a loop. Is the message one of sarcasm, accusing those tossing their spent butts of kidding themselves if they don't think they're polluting? Are we to feel sorry for the poor astonished rat who comes across a filthy butt despoiling his pristine sewer paradise? Or maybe JT is encouraging smokers not to pollute by suggesting they park their butts in the drain for later use - like we do with chewing gum. Curious too that the words "DROP", "SEWER" and "TOBACCO" are only rendered in English.

3) "Cigarette smoke is wider than a human body."

OK, I get the idea here, I think... a smoker's attendant exhalatory cloud is much bigger than themselves, thus infringing on the personal space of others. Very important in Japan where privacy is cherished. We have a stick figure child, to demonstrate the relative size of the evil smoke cloud. The 8-foot long cigarette, on the other hand...

4) "In summertime, the arms that pass near my lit cigarette are bare."

Ah yes, summertime, when brave Japanese venture out in short-sleeved shirts, risking injury or worse from tiny falling suns, huge mosquitoes and foot-long cigarettes. No wonder people are always carrying umbrellas in Japan! Seriously though, the ad seems to suggest smokers carry their weapons, er, cigarettes, lower so as not to accidentally burn someone's bare arm. Lower, like around the height of a child's face...

5) "A cigarette butt tossed in a puddle absorbs water and becomes hundreds of pieces of trash."

Er, yes... I think that's what the term "biodegradable" means, and it's a good thing. The alternative would see us all knee-deep in indestructible butts - wait a minute, are we supposed to toss cigarette butts in puddles or what? Confusing or not, there's something serene and Zen-like about this sign. Kind of a "when a tree falls in a forest, does anyone hear?" sort of ethos. It would make a great motivational plaque - though I'm not exactly sure what motivation it would relate to.

6) "I moved to avoid him. But my smoke didn't."

Cue ominous "Jaws" movie music... "I moved to avoid him. But my smoke didn't". Cue woman's agonized scream. This ad is tighter than a one-act play. The graphics reinforce the message (?) with helpful words like "SIDE STEP" as an unstoppable, arrow-shaped secondhand smokescreen overwhelms the frantic dog-walker. Note that his dog, seemingly a Dachshund, was spared exposure to the pestilential cloud and looks away obliviously. Both myself and Japan Tobacco want you to know that no animals were injured in the making of this sign!

7) "I don't smoke in a crowd... but how many people does it take to make a crowd?"

It's a valid question, I suppose... how many people does it take to make a crowd? The handy-dandy Crowd Scale depicted on this sign isn't much help, I'm afraid, even though its range is zero to infinity. The real question is, who the heck is going to spend their precious time in front of the sign trying to figure it out? Along with The Meaning of Life, while they're at it. But back to the business at hand - I THINK what JT is trying to say here is that since the definition of the word "crowd" cannot be determined, ANY number of people can be said to form a crowd. Ergo, if "I don't smoke in a crowd", I don't smoke at all. One last question: how much is Japan Tobacco paying these creative adpeople?

8) "A person was waving at me. He was waving away my smoke."

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that this ad plays on people's desire to be noticed by friends in public places. How disappointing to find out, then, that the person you thought was a friend was merely fanning away your smelly cigarette smoke. Hmm, I would have thought their disgusted expression would have given away their true feelings about you. Does this actually happen, by the way? I mean, there's wind outside and all...

9) "Stand ashtrays. Disposing of a lit cigarette in one just creates more smoke."

This makes sense - and without straining your brain for 20 minutes trying to figure it out. The phrasing conforms to Japanese cultural norms in that it does not demand you "stub out lit cigarettes!!", but instead merely suggests you (A) consider how the consequences of your actions affect society at large and (B) do the right thing. On the lighter side, note the graphic "crown of thorns" over the fireman's head denoting shock and/or surprise, a common feature in these ads.

10) "My cigarettes smell good. Other people's smell bad."

"Egoism"... the number one cause of social disharmony. This theme just might be effective in Japan where social harmony is to be strived for and "the nail that stands up will be hammered down". Here, not so much - I'm guessing it's no more than 10 minutes before some wiseacre graffiti artist sees this sign and writes "farts" over "cigarettes".


Well, there you have it - public service announcements from a private company trying their best to make a bad product look good. My take on it? If a tobacco company gives enough ad people enough time and enough money, they'll wind up with 73 ads that look great in a boardroom powerpoint presentation but are utterly ignored by a public overwhelmed by high-pressure advertising. Then again, perhaps that's exactly what Japan Tobacco had in mind! (via Conbinibento)

Steve Levenstein
Japanese Innovations Writer

Apr 25, 2008
by Anonymous

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hi just to let all you people know that i don't do drugs and i'm doing a report and drugs and i didn't plegearized neither i love the 10 fact's 2 it's awsome who ever came you with this did a good job for this/with this