Are cars the new cigarettes?

When restrictions advertising cigarettes were introduced it began a long, inexorable journey for the once cool social drug towards social opprobrium. Are cars on the same track?

From this year the French Government has mandated that car advertisements will have to include messages encouraging people to consider less polluting transport alternatives.

Yes, that includes getting a bike instead.

The initial steps to clamp down on cigarette promotion was just the first of many moves to keep the notorious "cancer sticks" out of the hands of the public.

Although the shocking, negative health impacts of smoking has been known for decades, cigarette advertising sold the public on the glamour and kept them addicted.

But then the evidence emerged that Big Tobacco had long known their products were harmful to human health, and had covered it up.

It was game over.

The harmful impact of the internal combustion engine on the health of the earth has likewise been well known, but again massive advertising campaigns convinced us that auto industry was really acting in the best interests of our planet.

Until... we found out that it was lies, and that multiple companies had deliberately tricked up their pollution tests to deceive us.

Now, with the climate crisis accelerating towards critical tipping points, the discredited car industry is going face the same squeeze as cigarettes.

Further clamps are already on the horizon.

As part of the new French law, advertising for the most polluting vehicles—those that emit more than 123 grammes of carbon dioxide per kilometre (that will include many popular SUVs)—will be completely outlawed from 2028.

The first of the new French rules will be introduced in March.

As well as the ‘why-not-give-the-car-a-miss’ messaging, the advertisement will also have to include details on the vehicles emissions, including its emissions class—a new ranking system on environmental impact.

Car companies will have three choices of message to place in their commercials:
  • Consider car-pooling
  • For day-to-day use, take public transport
  • For short trips, choose walking or cycling.

The messages will be required for all media – print, TV, radio or internet, and and must also include the hashtag "#SeDeplacerMoinsPolluer” — move and pollute less.

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