An anti-tobacco slogan in a local health department campaign is raising the ire of some adults while drawing praise from others.
“Suck on this,” says the logo printed on brightly colored T-shirts and decals, followed by unpleasant information about smoking meant to grab young people’s attention.
A few parents have objected to the sexual connotation of the message, part of a $50,000 campaign launched by the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.
They’re missing the point, said Miae Aramori, a program manager at the Health Department.
“In the context, it really means to think about this,” Aramori said. “It’s a play on words.”
The Health Department says the message is reaching its target audience of 12- to 17-year-olds about the dangers of alternative tobacco products, including hookah smoking, chewing tobacco, and small cigars called cigarillos.
“The language is the vernacular that young people use,” Aramori said, noting that most people support the campaign and understand how it’s trying to reach youths.
The Health Department is moving forward with plans to have volunteers wearing T-shirts with the “suck on this” slogan stand outside the gates of the Washington State Fair in Puyallup next month. They’ll also appear outside local concerts, including the Taylor Swift concert Saturday at the Tacoma Dome.
Rusty George Creative, a Tacoma advertising and design firm, came up with the slogan and others for the campaign. The $50,000 spent so far came from the Health Department’s budget for 2012 and this year.
The department also plans to distribute decals with anti-tobacco messages to put in restrooms for what it calls “bathroom takeovers.”
Those images and messages include:
- A pack of cigarettes in a urinal. “Suck on this. Cigarettes get extra flavor from urea, a chemical compound found in urine.”
- A spittoon in a bathroom floor. “Chew on this. Dip can make your teeth fall out.”
- A bathroom mirror with the message: “Suck on this. Smoking causes excess facial hair — on girls.”
The T-shirt focuses on hookah smoking, a trend among young people who use a Middle-Eastern style water pipe to inhale flavored tobacco.
“Suck on this,” the shirt says in large letters, followed by smaller print: “One hour of hookah = 150 cigarettes.”
Aramori said young people in focus groups where the slogans were tested didn’t realize the potency of hookah smoking.
Tobacco products are legal for those 18 and older, but that doesn’t keep younger kids from getting them, she said.
She said only some adults — not minors — are reading a sexual connotation into the “suck on this” slogan.
The campaign’s Facebook page is drawing comments on both sides.
Jo Vasichek-Ralston of Maple Valley commented: “Outstanding work! Get their attention!”
Denny Bromley also praised the campaign: “I would happily put my kid in one of these T-shirts if it moved him away from smoking.”
But one parent using the name Susie Que wrote: “This campaign uses my tax dollars to contribute to the delinquency of minors.” She noted that most public schools ban students from wearing clothes with sexually suggestive language like this.
Dana Hinman of Auburn also was critical: “Bad choice. Bad campaign. Wrong message. Bad example. Someone should have vetted this more closely.”
Kendall Haner, one of the department’s youth volunteers, commented on Facebook: “Voted by teens for teens. The message targets us, that’s all that matters.”
The campaign was launched this month when youth volunteers for the department wore the neon orange and green T-shirts with the “suck on this” slogan at the Pierce County Fair in Graham. They also passed out packages of gum with a cover that read: “Chew on this. Snuff can make you lose your tongue.”
Aramori said she heard positive comments the day she was at the Health Department’s booth at the fair.
“I heard nothing negative,” Aramori said. “I had no idea that people were dissatisfied.”
She said the messages are intended for young people to counter the tobacco industry’s new products and marketing strategies.
“We have to be able to cut through the clutter,” Aramori said, “and see the manipulation behind the marketing and the product.”