[Carfreeliving] SF Chron: Ban Car Commercials
dave at livablecity.org
Mon Feb 6 11:40:53 MST 2006
Coming to Terms With Our Obsessions
Time to ban car commercials?
Monday, February 6, 2006
Social engineering is a concept many Americans naturally abhor,
because it attacks our deeply held freedom, and we have always
believed in doing virtually anything we want. Free-market capitalists
feel this way, and most citizens usually go along for the ride.
But our country's obsessive consumption of oil to fill the tanks of
our auto-centric culture may eventually kill off the world, and
believe it or not, Mr. and Mrs. America, you and I will go down, too.
Our love affair with cars has to change, sooner rather than later.
The hubris of excess (see Hummer) has gotten our society into a
pickle, and it's time to take a novel approach with this problem.
Let's tamp down the future demand side -- to put it another way, like
a diet, we must somehow decrease our appetite. Cars are wonderful
machines, I'll freely admit, and powerful tools that help us maintain
our modern lives. But this obsession has gotten way out of control
and threatens the very air we breathe, the earth beneath our feet,
our overflowing landfills and even the worldwide political landscape.
If every American drove less, kept the same car longer or thought
about cars as a well-being issue, then perhaps we can yet avert
I suggest looking at a successful model from our past that
effectively tackled a serious societal problem. This drastic
transformation eventually brought about positive social change,
despite the bleating of mega-corporations. I am referring to the
tobacco industry and its cigarette advertising on TV and radio. Until
1970, U.S. consumers were bombarded by advertisements in all forms of
mass media, including the most popular, television. People knew that
something had to change and lobbied the government hard.
Congress finally passed a law, heavily fought by the tobacco and
broadcasting industries as well as the Nixon administration.
Nonetheless, the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act of 1969 was
signed into law by President Richard Nixon, on April 1, 1970. It
ended cigarette ads on TV and radio forever. When the last cigarette
commercial ran during Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show" (an ad for
Virginia Slims) at 11:59 p.m., Jan. 1, 1971, roughly 44 percent of
American men and 31 percent of American women smoked cigarettes,
according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Today, the CDC estimates that those numbers have dropped to 23.7
percent for men and 18.5 percent for women, respectively. The Tobacco
Outlook Report (written in 2005 by the U.S. Department of
Agriculture) calculated that Americans 18 years and older smoked
4,287 cigarettes per capita in 1966 (the highest level in U.S.
history) before the ad ban was enacted. The latest figures from 2004
estimate that number at 1,791 per capita.
Many factors, of course have driven the numbers of U.S. smokers down,
but clearly the omission of smoking ads from the airways made a large
difference. The ban has become a positive development for our
country, managing to change the behavior of many Americans.
I propose creating a similar ban on all automobile-related television
and radio advertising in the United States. I am asking Congress to
take the lead in helping to wean Americans, particularly the younger
generations, off the fixations that glamorize cars. Getting rid of
the TV ads will mitigate the lusting after cars and the constant
purported need to purchase a new one every few years.
"Ram Tough -- I've heard enough!" Most older cars work just fine, and
do not need constant replacement. Our landfills alone can't handle
the millions of pounds of auto junk poured into our earth. Our
continual quest for more and more oil causes problems around the
world, for both humans and the environment. I drive a car and am
happy to do so, but I recognize that people do not need two, three,
or four cars per person. We don't have the room, resources or enough
ozone to support this type of mindless consumption ad infinitum.
A shift is in order. I am not suggesting that cars be made illegal,
or tire shops raided. New and used car dealerships, gas stations,
repair and painting facilities, oil changers, tune-up shops and the
like will still be needed. I'm only suggesting that we start to alter
the emotional as well as economic landscape before it's too late.
Sure, the auto industry won't like this proposal one bit, and neither
will politicians raising big bucks from oil and auto-manufacturing
lobbyists, but upon reflection, the auto industry might come around.
It won't have to spend billions of dollars on producing and airing
expensive television ads that compete with each other.
If the world begins to think of cars as, for instance, washing
machines, then we may be on to something. Washing machines are mighty
useful, but aren't lusted after. We don't have Maytag commercials
hitting us over the head every time we turn on the TV, or listen to
the radio. We don't need to see them sliding over slick roads in
super slow motion. Washing machines are important tools that work
well and help us in our daily lives, just like cars.
Though difficult, this type of change is within our power, just as
brave politicians and consumer groups in the late 1960s were
eventually able to pass regulations banning broadcast smoking ads. My
suggestion may be a small step, but it's truly time to think big,
reclaim the airwaves and make a positive difference that will affect
future generations -- for the better.
Bob Ecker, a writer who lives in Napa, is president of Bay Area Travel Writers.
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