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Soup of This Day #367: All The Commotion

April 4, 2014

James Hunt
The #20 Brabham BT20 in this photo is being driven by James Hunt. His cavalier style earned him the nickname, ‘Hunt the Shunt’ early in his extraordinary career – Photo: Gerald Swan, 1969. Gerald Swan is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

Dear Tobacco Industry,

The other day I was at a public function when the MC gave the audience the standard no-smoking-please message. As she paused before her next scripted announcement, 1 of her senior colleagues casually interjected, promising us a ‘funny story’ about smoking.

He explained that when he had 1st commenced work there, many years ago, every 1 of his new colleagues smoked. Then he paused for a beat before delivering his killer punch line:

‘They’re all dead now.’

There are some things you can’t spin.

Tobacco is 1 of them. It causes cancer, among other evils, and via that bastard disease it kills people. Today, there is almost nobody who disagrees with that premise, including you guys – The very industry that still profits from the provision of those killer leaves. In 2014, your aggressive championing of your product has subsided to a sort of mumbling about restriction of commerce – There is absolutely no mention of the health or lack thereof of consumers, either directly or otherwise.

That otherwise is marketing by association and last century you got quite good at practicing that ad nauseum (Quite literally for some smokers, who developed emphysema and suffered from quite a bit of nausea as they died) via the sporting world. From the mid 1900s it was known that tobacco was a significant hazard to health, yet tobacco advertising was an ever-present part of the sporting world for decades thereafter. Why?

Because scientists and their bureaucratic overlords might tell us that a pack a day will kill us, but there is an inherent and attractive contradiction when your sporting idols, the very models of health, are implicitly enjoying the cool flavour of tobacco. Even when those bureaucrats wised up and banned you from airing direct TV and radio advertisements, as happened in the US in 1970 and here in Australia in 1972, you worked around this impost by sponsoring sporting events, such as Formula 1 Grands Prix.

Sure, you weren’t advertising on TV, but having your product name emblazoned on a sleek and futuristic car as it’s speeding image was broadcast to millions of viewers is a pretty good substitute. Health bureaucrats had mundane 2-dimensional billboards watching over mundane urban roads in a mundane and passive silence, while you, being such fine purveyors of death, had 3-dimensional billboards that could sexily blast along the sexy road circuit of Monaco in 1:30.28, and with a sexy deep-throated roar for a sexy accent. The former is like Nicholas Cage’s Seth in City of Angels, while the latter is like Nicholas Cage’s…

Ok, so I can’t think of a Nicholas Cage film where he’s the epitome of sexy. It’s just not my thing. Neither to be honest, was City of Angels, in which Cage played a morose angel called Seth, who was supposed to guide those near death through to the other life. That’s pretty much what health officials were doing when competing with tobacco advertising in Formula 1. For most you see, it’s better to live 5 years as James Hunt than 100 years being hounded by a miserable sod of an angel that looks like Nicholas Cage.

James Hunt was a wonderful advertisement for smoking tobacco.

He’d also have made a rip-snorting advertisement for cocaine if it had been legal. That it wasn’t didn’t stop him from indulging in it – Hunt was as famous for his vices as he was his piloting of a Formula 1 car – He was often pictured, cigarette in mouth and racing suit half undone, with a girl or many in close proximity. In the weeks leading up to the climatic 1976 Japanese Gran Prix, Hunt allegedly had sex with 33 British air hostesses. It didn’t distract him from his driving though – In a rain-swept race he finished 3rd, pipping Niki Lauda to the title by a solitary point. His car for that race was a McLaren M23, liberally branded with the name of a major cigarette company.

That company would be linked with McLaren and others in motorsport for some time. They even went on to sponsor a young drivers program, with Hunt acting as a mentor.

Here in Australia, that same company branded the Holden LX Torana SS A9X Hatchback of legendary touring car driver, Peter Brock, as he won the 1978 Bathurst 1000.

And it wasn’t just motorsport that was sullied down here either – Another tobacco company sponsored cricket, and such was the nature of that game through the 1970s and 1980s, that players smoking in the dressing room was surely not that unusual a sight. It was only with the Australian banning of tobacco sponsorship of sporting events in 1992 that the death knell was sounded for tobacco in cricket. Even then there was a notable hold-out – Shane Warne, who would go on to amass the greatest number of Test wickets of any Australian bowler, debuted in 1992 and proceeded merrily along a James Hunt-like path, chasing cigarettes and sex.

Sadly James Hunt is no longer with us and wasn’t really around to nod appreciatively at Warne’s exploits – In 1993 the Formula 1 driver-turned-commentator died at the comparatively young age of 45 from a heart attack. Heart attacks can be associated with tobacco use, although it’s unclear in Hunt’s case as to whether tobacco was a factor. It could have also been the cocaine, the marijuana, the frequent and reportedly wild sex, or a natural genetic proclivity for heart attacks.

What I can say with some certainty is that tobacco killed my Grandad Brian, almost 25 years ago. He smoked and had done for a large portion of his life. Cancer resulted, metastasised and then painfully and horribly, it killed him. I still miss him – He was both nuggety and gruffly good-humoured, a tough gold miner who liked to tickle his grandsons’ faces with his whiskers as he tucked them in to bed at night. He told me how lasers worked and paid me to scrub rust off the towbar of his caravan. I loved and respected him dearly, but cancer and the tobacco that caused it care nought for any of that.

See, some things you can’t spin. Shane Warne, known as the ‘Sheik of Tweak’, managed to spin out 708 Test wickets in his career – I reckon though that he couldn’t find an ounce of turn in what tobacco did to my Grandad. You could even have etched the story of my Grandad’s death into the tread of a tire attached to the rear of a McLaren M23 and had James Hunt rev it up on a wet track before dropping the clutch and you still couldn’t have spun up any good out of what played out.

@#$% you. @#$% you and the horse you rode in on.

Yours, most sincerely,


All The Commotion

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