The other day I refused to sell cigarettes to a girl who was still wearing her school uniform. I should probably have just served her and let natural selection take its course, but a tiny part of me held out hope that with the right guidance she might, one day, overcome her intellectual shortcomings.
About five minutes later a guy who was either her dad or her pimp stumbled in, three sheets to the wind, and slurred “Who do you think you are? God?” Flattered as I was, I didn’t care for his tone. When he tried to buy the same cigarettes, I took great pleasure in telling him that this qualified as secondary supply (a term I had learned only a few days previous).
Those in the 20-30 age bracket are problematic for different reasons. You look like a moron if you ask some people for ID and a pushover if you don’t and suddenly your place of work is getting targeted by packs of prepubescents. It gets even trickier when you’re dealing with Asians. Hand to heart, I ID’d a 47 year old woman the other day.
My brother was once featured on Channel 7, or whatever show Rick Arden was on where he didn’t age at all in twenty years. They did an exposé on the sale of cigarettes to teens, and my brother offered himself as tribute in the hope of scoring some free goods. A lot of storeowners sold them to him, even though he was wearing a school backpack and had three wisps of hairs on his chin that would’ve killed for some company.
This was the 90s, though, and in the 90s cigarettes couldn’t kill you. We were just coming off the back of the Marlboro man whose rugged good looks more than compensated for that fact that cancer was making a beeline for his testicles. No one cared. The dude was so manly he sweated Old Spice.
It’s a far cry from today’s ads which, frankly, are a bit of a downer. They’re all about death and losing parts of your body. And the colour scheme on the packets is horrendous. If the cheesy arteries don’t put you off, the baby vomit-coloured packaging will. Here are a few of my favourites in ascending order of morbidity…
What came first here – the chicken or the egg? This poor man’s eyes (which Mona Lisa the hell out of you no matter where you place them on the counter) appear to be in perfect nick at the time of his abduction. No wonder he’s blind NOW. Would your eyes react well to being Clockwork Oranged within an inch of their life?
What exactly happened in the making of this ad? One can only imagine. The bit they didn’t show on the pack (restrained as they were by its dimensions) was the rack he was stretched out on, screaming and flailing helplessly, while health-conscious citizens put out cigarette butts on his nether regions.
This one just shows your pee turning pink. It looks like a neat party trick to me, one I would’ve killed for as a kid. Then I, too, would’ve had something grotesque up my sleeve, something equally as impressive as my brother’s magical, green-hued poos. Look at my pink wee, I’d say, pointing lovingly at the beginnings of bladder cancer. I really showed him, I’d think, taking a drag on my Cuban and wondering what drugs I’d do later in the evening.
I used to be the kind of creep that ordered their steak “well done.” Years on, I’ve realised that there is nothing well done about destroying a perfectly good piece of meat. Now I order mine the exact shade of red you see in the middle of that picture. This ad makes me hungry more than anything.
This is a veritable get out of jail free for people that don’t have kids. Don’t want to harm your unborn child? Cool, I’m not pregnant, thanks for asking, that’s just the fallout from Sizzlers. And what if you actively dislike kids? Even better. Now you can take them with you.
Then there’s Brian Died Aged 34. Do not get me started on Brian Died Aged 34. His daughter and I both knew the truth, and that’s that Brian Died Aged 34 died from AIDS, NOT from smoking. (Seriously). Thanks for nothing, health department. If you’d spent as much time finding a cure for AIDS as you did on your fallacious ads, Brian Died Aged 34 might still be with us. Did he even die, though? Or is he, as I suspect, shacked up with Elvis Who Didn’t Die Aged 42 in Buenos Aires.
There’s really no sugarcoating this one.
The odd thing at my work is that you’re not meant to let customers ever sight a pack of cigarettes. And they’re unbranded. Even while you’re filling the cigarette cabinet, which means you’re constantly flapping it open and closed between customers. On Monday, you’re doing this so often it looks like you’re just standing there trying to generate a breeze. And sure, it kinda makes sense when there are kids around, but when you’re hiding the goods from someone that looks like they sprinkle tobacco on their Weetbix, it all becomes a bit ridiculous.
Smokers are the real pariahs now, relegated to the outskirts of university campuses and forced to put out their cigarettes whenever they pass a playground. In Europe none of this ostracism exists, and a weird part of me finds it refreshing. Look at them, I think, sticking it to the man with what little time they have left. In Australia, they would’ve been hidden under a blanket somewhere, 10 kms away from the restaurant they were eating at. None of me misses the idea of people smoking on a plane. That was messed up.
Occasionally, when I sell a pack of ciggies, I’ll ask the smoker whether they want Bryan Died Aged 34 or the one that gives you funny-looking feet. It’s a joke that never fails to please. Often, they’ll tell me I can give them one of my own choosing. I go with something as gnarly as possible and then add that they should ring their mother and tell her they love her before it’s too late.
They laugh, because that’s what smokers do, even in the face of impending death. Not today Satan, they say, as they hand over the down-payment on a small apartment. I’ll give ’em this, those smokers can take it just as hard as they give it (to every cell of their body).