The federal government spent millions of dollars in recent years to discourage tobacco use among hipsters through a program that recommends “styling your sweet mustache” and listening to music “no one else has heard of” as good alternatives to smoke breaks.
The National Institutes of Health has awarded $5 million to the anti-smoking campaign since 2011, with the money going toward social events, ads, posters, T-shirts, social media and more.
Some of the messaging knocks “neoconservative political candidates,” criticizing them for taking major donations from the tobacco industry. A 2004 NIH study found that Democratic and Republican lawmakers receive such contributions and that members of both parties are strong allies of the industry.
Pamela Ling, a medical professor at the University of California San Francisco and a former cast member on MTV’s “Real World” season three, directs the project. She worked with Rescue Social Change Group to create a “social brand” called Commune, which sponsors smoke-free events featuring local artists and alternative bands, in addition to paying artists to create anti-tobacco swag.
The campaign also involves quit-smoking groups for social leaders such as DJs and bartenders, who record their progress with kicking the habit on a blog.
The program specifically targets hipsters, defining the subculture as young adults who are “focused on the alternative music scene, local artists and designers, and eclectic self expression,” according to an abstract of the project.
The Washington Free Beacon first reported the campaign’s questionable messaging in an article last November, noting for instance that a statement on the Commune’s Web site condemns the tobacco industry for contributing to “things like world hunger, deforestation and neo conservative policies.”
Ling has concluded that hipsters need something more than scary health warnings to keep them from lighting up.
“Saying ‘Smoking is bad for you’ isn’t relevant to them,” she said in a 2010 article on the UCSF Web site. “But they do care about self expression and social justice.”
The NIH defended its support for the campaign, saying in a statement on Sunday that research from the program will “improve approaches to messaging targeted to young adults.”
“This specific project addresses the prevention of tobacco-related diseases by developing a social marketing intervention to block tobacco industry marketing to young adults attending bars and nightclubs,” NIH said. “The project will evaluate the effects of the intervention as delivered to young adults in four cities compared to young adults with a similar smoking prevalence in four comparison communities.”