A more thoughtful argument for Pamela McColl

I’m embarrassed to find that I missed comments on my blog for about the last six weeks. (Bad blogger!) Hopefully I’ve fixed the problem that kept me from getting notifications now.

BAD SANTA! Source: blindgossip.com (click on image to see original)When I went back to review the comments received, I found that the infamous Pamela McColl - of rewriting ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas fame - didn’t particularly appreciate what I had to say about her anti-smoking efforts. So, she decided to provide more information for me to digest in an effort to sway me to her point of view.

I suppose it’s not her fault that I forgot to link to my previous post that revealed my feelings about smoking. I think it’s clear that I’m not a fan. What isn’t so clear from that piece is that I have a realistic side that knows that we absolutely do not have the resources in place to institute a smoking ban that will assist smokers in quitting. 

My thoughts about the efforts that Pamela McColl has gone to in re-writing ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas is that it’s not going to convince even one person to stop smoking - or prevent them from being influenced to start. I’ll change my views when I see evidence - hard facts and figures - that point to Santa as a primary culprit who is influencing children to smoke. 

Let’s have a look at what Ms. McColl so graciously posted to my blog:

In 1998 the United States Goverment had finalized the Master Settlement Agreement and one of the three provisions was the prohibition of cartoon characters smokiing in promotions. Joe Camel is illegal everybody and back then you thought that was great. !!!

Joe Camel was a character used to market cigarettes. Santa is a character used to market Christmas. I fail to see how the two can be compared. It was and is a good thing that Joe Camel is gone. They aren’t the same.

Do some reading - The Cigarette Century, The Journal of American Medicine studies on young children 3-7 and the influence of cartoon characters smoking, go read World Health Organization, Center for Disease Control, Smoke Free Movies, The 905 pages of the Surgeon General’s Report on the status of youth and smoking. 

I don’t need to read these. Smoking is unhealthy. Children being exposed regularly to characters smoking is unhealthy. Occasional once-a-year pictures of Santa with a pipe is not the same as coming home to watch Popeye every day after school, assuming today’s kids actually watch that many cartoon characters smoking.

We cannot protect our children from every possible bad thing in life. We cannot hide the ugliness from them and expect them to grow up as well-rounded, balanced individuals who know how to handle everything that life throws at them. If my son asks me what a smoking Santa is doing, it’s an invitation for me to have a frank and honest conversation with him about smoking. There has to be some value assigned to parents’ ability to guide children through life, especially on major issues like smoking.

This is not about censorship but freedom of speech and I am trying to talk about tobacco prevention and it is my right to artistic license or whatever else you want to call it to take a piece in the public domain and do this. 

I challenge anyone to read my original post on this topic and find the word censorship mentioned in the text that I wrote. I checked. It’s not there. Furthermore, freedom of speech works both ways. You, Ms. McColl, have the right to your beliefs, actions and defense of them. I have the right to state my opinion - even if you don’t like it. If we disagree, we each have the right to say our piece. At no point did I say you didn’t have the right to your revised version of the classic poem. I even carefully made sure to mention that it is in the public domain. Perhaps you’re thinking of others who have also criticized the new book.

To call this effort “talk(ing) about tobacco prevention” is misleading. You’d first have to establish a clear causal link to Santa smoking in this story creating increases in smokers.

It is choice which edition you want to give your young child. Frankly if you are 65 and want to read an edition with even all the reindeer smoking go at it but please lets try and protect this next generation of children. 

To imply that purchasing the classic version that millions across generations have enjoyed would be the equivalent of not protecting the next generation is insulting and gives the piece (the original and yours) far more power than either deserves. The impact of childrearing choices on our offspring is determined by a wide range of variables and this poem just isn’t going to lead children down the smoky garden path.

One billion people will die in this century from tobacco use and you want to argue over a verse in a poem that was written in 1823 by a man who hated smoking?

No, I don’t particularly want to argue. I expressed my views and you responded. I have no problem with that, but let’s be absolutely clear that it was your choice to do so.

Is your book going to save even one life of someone who is a smoker? No, because the only people who will buy it are going to be passionate non-smokers who buy into the fear that Santa will influence someone they love (most likely children) to smoke. Or people who accidentally buy it not realizing that it’s been revised.

Lets get serious and get on the same page.

I don’t think that’s going to happen on this subject.

The Centre for Disease Control issued a study that shows pipe smoking increased by 583% since 2008 - it is cheaper than smoking cigarettes.

I fail to see how Santa smoking a pipe has an impact on this. I also find it interesting that “583% increase” is the number quoted rather than numbers that have actual context.

It will take one generation to not start smoking to strangle tobacco and that is what we need to be talking about.

I agree. So, why is time being wasted on this poem? I agree with the end result, but I don’t agree with the road you’re taking to get there.

As I quoted in my original post: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana, Life of Reason I) I stand by the need for smoking to remain a part of the discussion, even if an entire generation ceases to smoke. Personally, I doubt that will ever happen. The government gets too much tax money and doesn’t provide enough resources to help smokers quit. It’s a vicious cycle.

25% of smokers had their first cigarette by the age of 10. 
35% of current smokers age 15 will die a premature death. 
1 in 324 young women ( in their child bearing years) are smoking. 
Smoking rates have stalled over the past few years - they are not declining. 

Knowing these facts and figures doesn’t mean that the actions chosen to deal with them are the best course to solving the problem. Case in point: revising a Christmas poem will not reduce these statistics.

 i don’t care about Frosty I care about Santa - the most influential character of them all - why do you think Coke has been usiing him since the 1930’s. 

Coke uses Santa in advertising because it works and he’s influential and it’s legal for them to do so. Cigarette companies do not use him, because as you mentioned above, the law forbids it. If Santa is holding a pipe in a picture book, it isn’t placed there by a pipe tobacco company or a cigarette company as an advertisement. As smoking becomes more taboo, those pictures are fewer and further between. The evolution of our decreasing acceptance of smoking is already at work. 

What this new book has done is call attention to a single stanza that was probably quoted for the first time in connection with the stories about this new book where they’ve been deleted. It addresses a single incarnation of Santa that isn’t at the forefront and hasn’t been for a long time. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure everyone could tell you that Frosty has a “corn-cob pipe and a button nose”.

Here’s some research for you: a google image search of “Santa” nets 2,520,000,000 results and the first picture of Santa smoking is on page 5. A google image search for “smoking Santa” nets 36,100,000 results and most images are content meant for adults, not children. I’d say this is evidence that the image of Santa that most hold doesn’t contain a pipe.

I need help here not criticism that I truly believe is shallow and not well researched as I must say this book most certainly was. 

The people who need help are smokers who want to quit and can’t shake the addiction. The people who need help are those who are suffering the ill effects of inhaling cigarette smoke - first or second hand. When I see valuable, compassionate, non-shaming anti-smoking advocacy happening, I’ll help. 

To your second point, since I was stating my opinion, I’m not required to do extensive research. Calling my opinion shallow is insulting, although I’m sure you were insulted that I called this effort a waste of time. My view on that isn’t going to change. I can agree to disagree.

The Kirkus Review - reviewing children’s books for the past 80 years calls the deletion of smoking a “legitimate” edit.

Legitimate edit or not, it doesn’t mean it’s necessary or adding value. I doubt the Kirkus Review are weighing the legitimacy of the edit against the statistics and anti-smoking advocacy platform you have established as justification.

Ultimately, book sales will be the deciding factor. If people want this edit, they will buy it. I just won’t be one of them.