ClearWay “Cash Register”

The most important line in Barack Obama’s inaugural address may have been his use of the Biblical admonition that we “set aside childish things.” The thought came to mind in watching Sunday’s Super Bowl commercials, which often seemed to reflect an assumption that the median age of the U.S. population must be around 13. This spot (via Clarity Coverdale Fury of Minneapolis) for the ClearWay Minnesota anti-smoking campaign isn’t one for the creative record books. But as it aired in a few local markets during the game’s telecast, its grownup treatment of a grownup issue likely benefited from the contrast with the childishness that surrounded it. The anti-tobacco effort as a whole has gained much of its strength from Americans’ belief that the harm of smoking extends to non-smokers through “passive smoking.” With its cash register toting up the expense that smoking imposes on the public (glimpses of a newscast and newspaper headline put the figure for Minnesotans at nearly $2 billion a year), this spot delivers the financial equivalent of the passive-smoking message. An onscreen super at the end of the spot declares that “We all pay the price for tobacco.” In the current dire economy, this theme will resonate strongly with people who can scarcely cover their own essential expenses and have no wish to subsidize the consequences of somebody else’s bad habit. For that matter, the spot will chip away at the credo of individual choice that has become one of smokers’ last defenses as they try to fend off further restrictions on tobacco use. If your choice to smoke ends up adding to the taxpayer’s burden of state-health costs, then you’re less a rugged cowboy than a public-welfare case. -Mark Dolliver