Feds spend $5M to make hipsters think smoking is not the new cool thing

Despite that “hipster” is an increasingly meaningless term usually functioning as a placeholder when the user wants to express scorn for some person or group and is too lazy to think of a more accurate pejorative, the federal government is targeting, well, um, hipsters in a program that discourages the use of tobacco.

Since 2011, the National Institute of Health has awarded $5 million to an anti-smoking campaign that encourages “styling your sweet mustache” and “listening to music no one has heard of” instead of lighting up that square of Bali Shag you just rolled. The program, in its own words, targets the “hipster subculture–a group focused on the alternative music scene, local artists and designers, and eclectic self expression.”

The program seeks to counteract increased spending by big tobacco trying to reach 18- to 25-year-olds at bars and music venues where restrictions against advertising and promotions are not present. Tobacco companies have invested millions on sophisticated marketing to this age group, promoting new tobacco delivery techniques like vaping–which all the kids these days know is the coolest–as smart, safe, and totally rad.

The anti-smoking campaign is run by Pamela Ling, a medical professor at The University of California San Francisco who is no stranger to big corporations shamelessly exploiting youth culture–she was a cast member on season three of MTV’s The Real World. Ling created the “social brand” known as Commune, which sponsors smoke-free events featuring local bands and artists, because she says traditional anti-smoking marketing just wasn’t effective on the youth of today.

“Saying ‘Smoking is bad for you’ isn’t relevant to them,” says Ling. “But they do care about self expression and social justice.”

While the group’s intentions are noble, it’s unfortunate that their tactics often ring just as hollow as those of the tobacco corporations they’re trying to counteract. Commune’s website specifically–and pretty superficially–co-opts language and values that they believe will reach their target market:

We have rejected big corporations for a long time, like Big Music that hinders creative freedom and Big Fashion that runs sweatshops. Our stand against Big Tobacco is even more important, since the industry contributes to things like world hunger, deforestation, and neo conservative policies.

Even worse, the tobacco industry’s pervasive marketing in the art and music scene has manufactured an image that people like us smoke. So now young people that look up to us believe that smoking is more important than creativity, music and self-expression to fit in. We’re out to change this distorted image of the scene.

I mean, I get it. It’s basic marketing. If tobacco corporations are going to go the route of OK Soda, anti-smoking groups are going to have to fight fire with fire. And it’s stupid to fault Commune and Ling’s efforts when they’re working to end a national health epidemic, not pad the wallets of billionaire tobacco executives.

I guess I’m just getting salty like any other self-important millennial that thinks they’re special, right? Maybe “hipster” actually isn’t some meaningless term after all–maybe we’re an easily identifiable demographic, nothing more than skinny jeans, progressive politics, and music that goes *beep beep boop boop*. Maybe I just need a cigarette.

[Washington Post]