If you drive around downtown Seattle long enough, eventually you’ll see the billboard of a little girl eating a dead, bloodied rat. (Warning: the hypertext immediately preceding this sentence reading “a little girl eating a dead, bloodied rat” links to a picture of a little girl eating a dead, bloodied rat.) It’s a wonderful thing to see as I’m commuting to work. One moment I’m humming along, fantasizing about the two Top Pot donuts I’m going to buy from the corner bakery when I arrive at the office, and the next I’m looking at a 20 ft. high portrayal of rodentaphagy.
The aim of the billboard is not to ensure that I maintain my girlish figure. It is, in fact, an anti-smoking ad. Below the picture is the text “Kissing A Smoker Is Just As Gross,” along with the slogan “Tobacco Smokes You.” You can find our more that their website, ashtraymouth.com, which has the following in the “keywords” section of its HTML header:
Ashtraymouth, ashtray mouth, Kissing a smoker, Tobacco smokes you, Kissing a smoker is just as gross, Don’t kiss a smoker, Yuck Chuck Challenge, Spin the Bottle and smoking, Gross Factor and smoking, Gross things and smoking, Eating a dead rat, Eating a cockroach, Eating roadkill, Eating a hairball, Eating cat throw-up, Eating a dirty sock…
All of this courtesy of the Washington State Department of Health.
To be fair, the billboard doesn’t show an actual photograph of a girl. It’s more like an adorable Nightmare Before Christmas-style doll eating a dead, bloody rat. The whole thing looks like something a emo girl would have tattooed on her lower back and then publish a picture of on her MySpace page. But, still.
This is not the first time that the WSDOH has used gross-out tactics to discourage people from smoking. I remember back in the 90′s I used to watch reruns of The Simpsons at 6:30 and, during the first commercial break, the screen would invariably get filled with a shot of diseased lung tissue. Just what you wanna see during the dinner hour.
I don’t smoke, and never have. So why am I subjected to this stuff? The fact that I’m paying for it as well just twists the knife. There’s much ado about the perils of secondhand smoke, but who’s raging against the scourge of secondhand smoker education? I mean, let’s face it: at this point I would pretty much have to voluntarily put myself in the position of inhaling secondhand smoke (especially since the passage of Initiative 901, Washington’s recent paean to the Nanny State), while these unappetizing ads are erected in the middle of our public square.
For that matter, why should smokers be subjected to these? These billboards don’t even offer education, only condemnation. At least when they cut from Ralph Wiggum to lip cancer, they were showing you something connected to the hazards of smoking. What the hell does a billboard of Gothy McMopper eating rat-on-the-cob have to do with anything? They aren’t supplying smokers with the facts so they can make informed decision anymore — now their goal, as near as I can tell, is simply to make smoking Not Enjoyable. I dislike your habit, so I’m going to make you dislike it too. It’s aversion therapy without the high electrical bill.
When you think about it, though, this ad isn’t even for smokers. It says “Kissing A Smoker Is Just as Gross,” implying that this billboard is aimed at friends of smokers. That’s right: we’re paying the state to run ads to train us to shun people for smoking. Jeeze, I can’t imagine why the folks in this city are perpetually pissed off about taxes.