The simple, cost-free way to stub out obesity
THE term ‘no filter’ had a very different meaning, when I was a teenager, than it does for my own teenage children. Now, ‘no filter’ can mean being direct, saying out precisely what’s on your mind regardless of the consequences. Or ‘no filter’ can be a humblebrag – another term that would have bamboozled my teenage self – meaning that your Instagram pictures haven’t been touched up and, yes, you really did wake up like that.
Back in the last century, though, ‘no filter’ wasn’t about humblebragging, or virtue-signalling, and it definitely wasn’t for snowflakey sissies.
‘No filter’ meant Sweet Afton cigarettes, in their distinctive yellow packet illustrated with an etching of a pure mountain stream and a quote from the Scottish poet, Robbie Burns: ‘Flow gently, Sweet Afton, among thy green braes/ Flow gently, I’ll sing thee a song in thy praise’.
Those were the days, when you could be moved to poetic raptures by an untipped cigarette, its content compared to crystal spring waters from the Scottish Highlands, and nobody batted an eyelid.
Filters were for the sort of men who ate quiche (ask your granddad), but the serious smokers took their carcinogens straight.
Filters separated the softies from the hard chaws, at a time when your brand of cigarette spoke volumes about you. Pathetic lightweights, for example, smoked ‘John Player Blue’, usually having cadged one at a party.
No-nonsense pint-drinkers chose Major Extra Size, while Camels or Gauloises spoke of languid afternoons sipping pastis in Parisian sidewalk bistros, even if your only exposure to French café culture was from the window of your school tour bus.
Sweet Afton and Woodbines, though, were for the hardened smokers who’d weaned themselves off filtered cigarettes around the same time they gave up mother’s milk.
Astonishingly, so a straw poll in this paper revealed earlier in the week, many modern twentysomethings couldn’t even name a brand of cigarettes, never mind distinguish their traits or their market.
And the only judgment they tend to make about smokers of any brand, these days, is that they’re all indulging a dangerous and unpleasant habit.
Years of warning smokers about the hazards of tobacco fell on deaf ears, it seems, but a few simple and practical measures have almost stamped out smoking in a new generation.
Between the smoking ban, the graphic health warnings on cigarette boxes, the advertising taboo and the introduction of plain packaging, smoking has lost what was, it seems, the most addictive of all its components: fashionability.
Smoking has been rendered uncool, to image-conscious younger folk, and is now perceived as the preserve of yellowtoothed, stinky-breathed, prematurely wrinkled old dupes.
Brands have no chic associations, celebs are rarely seen with a cigarette, and since you’ve got to step outside to have a fag, there’s no cachet in the habit anymore.
Obesity is now a much greater health concern for the younger generation than smoking, prompting the question of whether a similar offensive against the marketing of junk foods might deliver similar results.
If all chocolate came in identical plain wrappers, printed with pictures of clogged arteries and wobbly tummies, would we eat less of it?
If fast-food restaurants weren’t allowed advertise, would we snack on carrots and celery stalks instead?
If it was considered gross to break out a box of chocolate doughnuts in polite company, and you had to take yourself and your saturated fats outside in the cold, would a sweet tooth become a #fashionfail?
THE difference, perhaps, is that while your first cigarette almost always made you ill, we’re hardwired from infancy to crave sweet foods. So packaging and advertising are only a part of our relationship with unhealthy goodies but then, as the regular queues outside the Krispy Kreme store in Blanchardstown prove, they’re a rather significant part.
Krispy Kremes are very tasty, but no more so than any number of doughnut brands you can buy without a lengthy drive-thru wait: they just happen to be fashionable right now.
So it’s clear that we’re just as susceptible to fashion in our snack choices as a previous generation was in their choice of cigarettes. And fashion, by its nature, changes. Habits and trends, like brands and labels, go in and out of style.
And fashion can be manipulated by clever marketing.
The risks of drink driving were always well known, for example, but it wasn’t until sustained ad campaigns made it shameful and uncool that behaviour really changed.
Curbing fast food and confectionary ads, and not just those aimed at children, could well work to cut obesity levels by making unhealthy fare unfashionable.
To those of us who remember a time when a packet of Sweet Afton in your Levi 501s made you an edgy rebel without a cause, it certainly seems to be worth a try.