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.

Dear Santa, it's time for you to quit smoking in front of my kid...apparently

Yesterday morning, I saw this status from the National Post in my newsfeed on Facebook and tapped the link (on my phone) for reading after I had a moment to sit down. What did it say?

‘[Santa] doesn’t go around killing kids. He doesn’t leave them bombs. I just think starting to rewrite and revise all of our history leads to something even more meaningless than even Disney’

Oh yes, clickbait for sure, right?

The actual headline of the article is:

After 200 years, Santa kicks a bad habit: Publisher, activist edit Twas The Night Before Christmas, take away St. Nick’s pipe

Now THIS is progress, don’t you think? For nearly two centuries we’ve been damaging kids with these words and mental images of jolly, old St. Nick with his pipe standing beside the Christmas tree propped up with dozens of presents. The article is accompanied by this picture:

Source: National Post

Source: blindgossip.com (click on image to see original)Yes, the part of the picture that kids are paying attention to is the pipe, especially with the exaggerated cloud of smoke circling his head. In reality, most pictures of Santa don’t even have a pipe, and the ones that do - like the one to the right - certainly don’t make it a centerpiece of the image.

I don’t like smoking, so I don’t. I wish other people didn’t and I’ve made my fantasy of a cigarette ban well-known. But the fact is that what I want isn’t even close to realistic - not as things currently stand. While I have expressed frustration at being forced to inhale second hand smoke, I honestly try not to berate, belittle or otherwise condemn smokers for their unfortunate and unhealthy habit. But I am not anti-smoker, I’m anti-smokING.

That doesn’t change the fact that it is a habit that affects others and I will always maintain that quitting is the best thing you can ever do for loved ones. Many smokers realize this and it is a constant struggle to quit, one that grows more and more difficult the more taboo it is to smoke in society.

So, of course it really helps smoker shame for Pamela McColl to remove Santa’s pipe. Because pipe smoking is such a common problem. I see pipe smokers everywhere. Don’t you?

Will she re-write Frosty the Snowman and take away HIS corncob pipe? 

Source: Unknown

As much as I dislike smoking, I like the smell of pipe smoke. I always have. I have fond memories of going to a few different houses of family friends growing up and listening to their stories as they smoked a pipe. It was rare. I don’t remember their names or why we were there, but I remember liking the pipe smoke. It was better than the smell of cigarette smoke (other than my grandmother’s cigarettes - somehow hers smelled good. How do grandmothers do that?)

This classic Christmas poem has been in the public domain for quite a while and these kinds of revisions are permitted as the rights have expired (along with the author). The problem is that it’s an unnecessary. How many people do you know who’ve taken up pipe smoking because Santa influenced them?

This sort of revision of a classic that generations have grown up with is ludicrous. It’s erasing a portion of history that kids generations from now should learn about. 

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana, Life of Reason I)

If we ever get to the point that kids don’t know what smoking is (please, please!), would we actually want to omit that lesson from their knowledge banks only to have them “discover” the joys of smoking again? That would be such a shame. Just as it’s a shame that Ms. McColl is wasting time and effort thinking about a poem that isn’t even about smoking. If kids walked around quoting that stanza, I’d possibly have a different view. But that’s not my experience. 

To me, this is a waste of time, money, effort and smarts that could be expended in a far more useful way to give help to people struggling to stop smoking. 

It’s just one more case of political correctness going too far and highlighting a non-issue in a way that may not accomplish what she intends.