It's a scene that unfolds daily, rain or shine, along Madison Avenue as well as all the other concrete canyons of America, right there on those mean streets.
"Give me your tired, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe" ... nicotine.
Outside the headquarters of major ad agencies around the country, workers huddle together for quick cigarette breaks, trading banter for as long as a Marlboro will last.
But does their conversation ever center on the irony of why they're standing there? Some are employed by agencies that work on the anti-tobacco "Truth" campaigns for the American Legacy Foundation. Others are staffers at shops that perhaps did public-service announcements regarding the dangers of secondhand smoke. And some work on cigarette accounts, like employees of Publicis Groupe's Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, which has a piece of Philip Morris business.
"It's bizarre on both fronts," said a staffer at Arnold Worldwide, which along with Crispin Porter & Bogusky has created telling and sometimes controversial work for American Legacy's anti-smoking campaigns. "If you're a smoker working on an anti-smoking campaign, that's a little weird. And if you're a non-smoker and creative who's doing something for one of the cigarette brands, that's weird too."
Few, if any, agency employees wanted to speak on the record, much less give their full names. "I don't care what you say," said an Ogilvy staffer, "smoking is still kind of taboo."
But that doesn't stop some of the agency world's heaviest hitters. Omnicom Group CEO John Wren is a smoker. Peter Arnell and Neil French are often seen-and photographed-puffing on cigars.
Just not in the office.
And while smoking may be "kind of taboo," it's increasingly more than kind of against the law indoors. Office smoking rooms-a now-quaint concession to those who feel compelled to puff-are being closed and workers forced to leave the building. At Burnett, the birthplace of Marlboro Man machismo, staff smokers must saddle up and go at least 15 feet from the door before they can light up.
The smoker exile continues. Voters have approved ballot initiatives banning smoking in workplaces, bars and restaurants, bringing to 17 states that have a version of a smoke-free law. Hawaii is slated to be the 18th state when it signs a measure on Nov. 16, the day of the Great American Smokeout.
"Voters nationwide raised their collective voice," said John R. Seffrin, CEO of the American Cancer Society and its sibling advocacy organization, ACS CAN. "Passing strong, smoke-free laws, raising tobacco taxes and funding prevention programs are the three most effective ways to reduce smoking rates and protect nonsmokers from exposure to secondhand smoke."
If it isn't done through laws, it's done through the pocketbook.
In the last four years, 42 states have raised the tax on cigarettes, bringing the average tax to 96› a pack. ACS studies have shown that for every 10% rise in prices, youth smoking rates fell 7% and adult rates fall 4%.
Yet, ironically, it's hard to tell what works and what doesn't from the creatives managing campaigns for tobacco companies and those who work on anti-smoking efforts.
Smoking rates have decreased overall, yet a report published last month by the American Journal of Public Health on tobacco-industry prevention ads found that the ads failed to reach their goals.
Still, if more youth smokers grow up to become adult smokers, it still doesn't answer the question of where they go to smoke during work hours-whether they work at an ad agency or a modeling agency.