Hipsters Targeted for Federal Government’s New Anti-Smoking Campaign


The Federal Government is targeting its new anti-smoking campaign towards hipsters and paying up to $100 per quitter. Smoking is considered one of the leading causes of death, and despite the fact that companies pay large amounts of dollars for TV and billboard advertisements to campaign against cigarettes, close to 6 million people die each year from its use. While statistics show that that smoking overall has declined from 1965 when it was at 42 percent to 2012 at 19 percent, as a result of the surgeon general’s report, health experts argue that this is not good enough. In fact, according to the American Cancer Society and World Lung Foundation, smokers in 2014 alone lit up more than 5.8 cigarettes alone in 2014. A target for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is to reduce the amount of smokers to a rate 12 percent and over the next 25 years to 5 percent. The question is if not through the current forms of negative advertising, then how?

Now the Fed is taking a new approach targeting hipsters acknowledging that the past forms of advertising have proved ineffective because much of the audience that sees them are already non-smokers.  Since 2011, an alternative movement called Commune has been implemented in Burlington, Vermont, San Diego, and San Francisco. So far about $5 million has been on this program in order to get people to stop smoking through other types of methods. Part of this has gone to paying researchers to help them define what a hipster is and to describe his or her appearance.

Hipsters are often stereotyped as wearing flannel shirts, skinny jeans and caps or hats that are often lopsided. More often than not, they appear ungroomed with hair on their faces that appears scraggly and untrimmed. The researchers used these general images to report to the government as to who fit this descriptions. What is unusual about this group is that many of them are big advocates for social change and going green, while being chain smokers. Because hipsters harbor enormous skepticism toward government, the company, Rescue Social Change, who is responsible for spearheading Commune hides any instances of government from its advertising material including its website. Rescue Social Change Group is based in San Diego but also operates out of the other participating US cities.

The brains behind this anti-smoking movement Dr. Pamela Ling, who practices her medicine and research at the University of California, San Francisco and in 1994, while in Medical School, appeared on MTV’s Real World. In discussing the campaign, she comments that not too much emphasis is placed on the health benefits or negative effects of smoking. Even though most hipsters are aware, they are mostly desensitized to the negative images, not really caring or harping about the detriments of nicotine.

Commune is aggressive and blunt about its message to hipsters. Its representatives dress like hipsters themselves in order to blend into its target crowd and use financial incentives, as well as create peer pressure in order to make being a non-smoker appear hip. Other perks include free live music events, beer tastings with the labels showing Commune’s logo, and support for the arts and social movements.

Using a Smokerlyzer to measure the amount of carbon monoxide in the lungs, Commune monitors its participants for a period of eight weeks where one the program is complete, the hipsters are rewarded cash incentives of up to $100. Once a week, events called Commune Wednesdays are organized in order to lure in possible candidates. Other incentives include supporting the causes of the participants, for example, Commune uses some of its funds from federal grants to pay local bands and artists with a reward of up to $400 each time they contribute creatively through art, music or free parties. More than 180 creative partners are listed on Commune’s website.

Commune’s federal government campaign has proven in many ways to be successful, because it rather than acting like an anti-smoking rally, its reps have treated it more like an intervention with the cig toting hipsters. However there are some concerns whether the campaign will continue to appeal toward its target. For example, when approached by Commune, Vermont resident Ric Kasini Kadour became suspicious. “I had never heard of them,” he remarked. After trying to get some answers from @jointhecommune on Twitter to no avail, Kadour made a few phone calls to discover that Commune was backed by the federal government. He commented that it was weird that Commune was campaigning the joys of a smoke-free lifestyle but not being upfront about itself. However, Jeff Jordan of Rescue Social Change Group is not too worried about the repercussions to hipsters discovering the government role. On one hand, Jordan comments, people may see it as manipulation, or on the other hand, this is a first experiment of its kind, and if it works, the program will fulfilled the mission of  helping hipsters quit smoking not only in the US, but worldwide.

By Bill Ades
U.T San Diego
Photo by anita marie – Flikr License

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