Superman says “Never say yes to a cigarette”
Once again we are delving into the pamphlet collection, this time to bring you a glimpse of an early 80s public health campaign, staring Superman. This can be found in the upstairs gallery at classmark GFW.AH.41.
In 1980, off the back of the success of the 1979 movie starring Christopher Reeve, Superman was set to fight his biggest foe, move over Brainiac, Zod and Lex Luthor, you are all small fry compared to the evil prowess of Nick O’Teen.
Now… okay… he didn’t really have any powers, and his lung capacity wasn’t really ever going to give Superman much of a run for his money. But Nick O’Teen is doing something so much worse, he’s hanging around schools and down alley ways attempting to tempt kids with his cigarettes… and he’s more than likely breaking a court order or two in the process, but that’s just speculation. But of course, Nick O’Teen, like the many supervillains before him, is no match for our boy Clark Kent. I’m pretty sure those smoke sticks aren’t laced with kryptonite anyway….
Superman teams up with The Health Education Council.
The Health Education Council spent a large sum of money to license the rights to Superman from D.C. Comics, and then teamed up with advertising agency Saatchi and Saatchi. The campaign consisted of tv commercials and advertisements which ran for a two year period. Over 800,000 people sent off for the special Superman Stop Smoking packs which were advertised, including the comic featured in the Pamphlet collection, poster and other Superman related anti-smoking merchandise. Which in many respects is a huge success in terms of raising awareness of the public health issue. While there may have been no noticeable drop in the smoking rates of under 18s during the 1980s and 1990s, many were still very much aware of the campaign at the time and the response from schools was very positive.
Superman and cigarettes
The Superman franchise itself has a… shall we say… dicey history with smoking. Some respondents to the HEC campaign noted that Superman Candy Cigarettes could be purchased in shops. And the 1981 movie Superman 2 (in cinemas while the campaign was still in action in the UK) featured a large amount of product placement from a certain cigarette brand after the parent company paid £20,000 to producers for the right.
The reboot we all want
The use of cartoons in PSAs aimed towards children was not new and it makes sense to use a cartoon character they may have some affinity with to push a public health message. I still have memories of the G.I. Joe PSAs at the end of episodes, the more ham fisted the more I recall them. When all is said and done though, with the D.C. extended universe, the likelihood of another Superman movie is probably a given, so is it really too much to ask for Superman to face a reboot of his biggest foe on the silver screen? Get on it Hollywood.
Jacob, M. (1985), Superman versus Nick O’Teen — a children’s anti-smoking campaign, Health Education Journal, Vol. 44 (5), pp. 15-18.
Mold, A., Elizabeth, H. (2019), Superman vs. Nick O’Teen: anti-smoking campaigns and children in 1980s Britain. Palgrave Communications, Vol. 5 (116), pp. 1-12
Health Education Council. (1980), Superman anti-smoking campaign comic.
DOVEMEAD; PM, PHILIP MORRIS; SPENGLER,P. SUPERMAN II – THE MOVIE, (18th October 1979), Philip Morris Records; Master Settlement Agreement. https://www.industrydocuments.ucsf.edu/docs/rqbj0111 [accessed 23rd November 2021]
The Thief Archive. (2010), Superman – Never Say Yes to a Cigarette. [online video] Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TBJkA3w_LVQ [accessed 26th November 2021]