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Top 10 Bizarre Cigarette Commercials

I guess you could blame zillions of dollars in lawsuits, a decade of those "Truth" ads, the decrepitly slimy Smoking Man from The X Files, or perhaps some combination of all of the above, but whatever the root cause, smokers these days have it rough. Even putting aside pesky physical effects like lung cancer, emphysema, and Tater Tot-sized fetuses, the overall social status of the American cigarette smoker has slipped down somewhere between lawyers and those guys who sing the FreeCreditReport.com jingle.

These stain-fingered pariahs huddle in exile on balconies and patios, braving the elements for their nicotine fix while the rest of the party tsk-tsks in dry, air-conditioned comfort. They're the last group of people that it's socially acceptable to be openly rude to, especially if their lit cigarettes are in the same zip code as your precious honor student. After a recent $1.25/pack tax increase in New York City, 20 cigarettes now cost as much as a generously-portioned rock of crack -- but I believe you still have to cross the river into New Jersey before you can actually light up. (The cigarettes, that is -- go ahead and spark that rock right on the subway, homes.)

Today's social and political climate makes it almost hard to believe that cigarettes were not only once socially accepted, they were the norm -- so prevalent in our daily culture that there was almost a subtle message that it was the people who didn't smoke that you had to watch out for. If you were having a great smoke and wanted to share your pleasure with a stranger, you just said, "Here, try one." You didn't bother with silly little preambles like, "Do you smoke?" Of course he smokes.

Cigarette commercials were banned from American TV in 1971, so any retrospective of commercials more than four decades old -- cigarettes or not -- will necessarily elicit some easy chuckles. But even looking past the funny hairdos, clothes and music, these 10 gems from a bygone era have a serious "WTF?" factor all their own...

10. Smoke-n-Ski

Not only did the Oasis cigarette co. put forth the idea that smoking was something that should be done concurrently with water sports, they appropriated the term "The Big O" for decades, leaving American women orgasm-less until the early 1970s.

9. Opera Star Marguerite Piazza

Decades before kids started smoking so they could deliberately fuck up their vocal chords and sing like Rod Stewart, there was this lady. I guess people back then actually knew opera singers by name, other than "The Fat Guy and Those Other Two."

8. Dear Santa...

In John Hughes' 1985 teen flick, The Breakfast Club, Judd Nelson's character angrily speaks of the last, thoughtless Christmas gift his father gave him -- a carton of cigarettes -- punctuating the story's intended pathos with a gruff impression of his old man's callousness: "Smoke up, Johnny!"

Obviously those cigarettes weren't Camels.

7. "I'd rather fight than switch!"

Apparently, the struggle for brand loyalty sometimes led to physical violence...but Tareyton smokers bravely held their ground against the ruthless, marauding goon squads sent by rival tobacco execs to break their will. Bonus: this wildly popular ad campaign gave battered wives something exciting to tell social workers besides that tired old "I walked into a doorknob" excuse.

6. The Broadway Booster

It's opening night and you've got a real turkey on your hands. Preview audiences weren't buying the main boy-meets-girl love story, probably because your leading man is clearly in love with the old queen in the ascot and mustache. And your leading lady has some odd, barely-decipherable accent she can't get rid of. Didn't she listen to the goddamn tapes you sent her? Haven't any of these bumbling amateurs heard of Stanislavsky, ferchrissakes? But wait! Is that a carton of...Newports?

(On the other hand, if you've got a talented cast and crew assembled, but your script blows, smoke Viceroys instead.)

5. Smoking cigarettes makes you cool...

...except for Newports, which turn you into your dad.

4. Do-Si-Don't

Yes, an earlier commercial for Lucky Strikes features similarly disturbing stop-motion images of cigarettes -- marching in formation, evoking icky thoughts of goose-stepping Nazis or, to you stoners who flunked history, those hammers from Pink Floyd's The Wall. But has there really ever been a more shameful, totalitarian, or resentment-inspiring activity than when your junior high P.E. teacher made you fucking square dance? I'll take marching any day.

3. "As cool and as clean as a breath of fresh air*"

*Assuming you live in a smelting plant.

And Kool, what do you have against Sikhs, anyway? If you'd done your homework, you would have found it's actually the 4th biggest religious group among penguins.

2. "I don't think that's tobacco, honey..."

...although yes, it does make sitting around watching TV much more enjoyable.

1. "On second thought, maybe we'll go with those chewable vitamins."

Yes, that really is the fucking Flintstones, man. Smoking cigarettes.

But! This series of commercials (yes, Fred and the gang starred in several) was NOT an attempt to market tobacco to children, but rather a subtle metaphor for how outdated and ahem, prehistoric the whole notion of cigarette smoking actually is.

No? Damn. Winston's legal team totally thought you'd buy that.

BONUS BIZARRITY: What's Norwegian for "Superbad"?
If a time machine were invented, some people would want to go back and witness the birth of Christ, the signing of the Constitution, or that one Ozzfest they missed. Me? I'd warp back and drink in as much as possible of the surely surreal pitch meeting that birthed this 1960s spot for Norway's South State cigarettes. (Was this concept explained in Oslo? Motown? Some crazy, smoke-and-herring-filled party boat somewhere in between? The world may never know.)

This commercial is strangely hypnotic -- even at a staggeringly long (for a TV commercial, by our standards) 3+ minutes, I've probably watched it 7 or 8 times. And I'm still not 100% sure what the pule is going on.

It sounds like it's partially in English, partially in Norwegian. And then there are lines that sound like, "He gets her old slacks, smoke and relax," that really have me scratching my head.

And tell me the guy on the right at 1:12 isn't the spitting image of Flavor Flav.

Here's to you, Proto-Flav and your hat-loving crew. I hope wherever you are, you're all smoking, relaxing, and getting some chick's old slacks, if that's what you're still into.

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they do havee it kind of rough
speccially here in the illinois zhere they just ,ade it illegal to s,oke publicly; thats pretty la,e and i dont smoke::::

said notjohndoe2 on July 10, 2008 4:08 PM.

Thanks for the co,,ent, notjohndoe2.

On a side note, you ,ay want to ,ove your right index finger slightly to the left. ;)

said Jeem on July 10, 2008 4:21 PM.

Thank you for posting the "South State" commercial. I've watched it twice, and each time it's given me an acid flashback. Good times. (Especially when the two dancing chicks show up).

said Ookie on July 31, 2008 11:45 PM.

You're very welcome, my friend. Glad to see someone else as transfixed as I am by Technicolor Norwegian doo-wop.

said Jeem on July 31, 2008 11:56 PM.

bs24A5 skf83dnbfv9h2v64rn0vm

said scania on August 5, 2008 12:59 PM.

Scania, I really hope that's not a coded message to Big Tobacco's assassin squad. Should I be nervous here or what?

said Jeem on August 5, 2008 1:10 PM.
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