Banning Cigarette Ads Worked; Should We Ban Car Ads?

Promo image. Cobra ad

WARNING: Driving cars kills. Should companies be able to market them as speedy, sexy objects of desire?

We all know that cars are dangerous to our health. Drivers of cars kill thousands every year directly by mowing them down, and indirectly through pollution from exhausts. Then of course, there is the damage that drivers do to themselves by not getting exercise. I wrote last year that cars are killing us, and it is time to limit the damage to drivers and to people around them, just like we did with smoking.

Writing in The Age, environmental educator Arwen Birch has an interesting proposition that picks up on this. He thinks advertising of cars should be banned, just like it was for cigarettes in most of the world. “Smoking and car use have comparable health costs, yet while we have the strictest tobacco promotion laws in the world, we allow car companies to promote themselves unbridled.”

smoking is freedom

Smoking, like driving, is about freedom! /Promo image

Birch reminds us that just like cigarettes, car exhaust contains benzene and many other cancer-causing chemicals that build up inside the car.

Car fumes contain a toxic mix of chemicals that are implicated in a wide range of diseases including cancer, Alzheimer’s and respiratory illnesses. Researchers from the University of Melbourne argued recently that given the large number of early deaths caused by motor vehicle pollution it is car use, not car accidents, that is the more significant killer.
Bmw ad

BMW Bavaria ad/Promo image

Birch also notes that car ads promote speed and sexiness.

smoking ad

Smoking used to be sexy. Can you imagine this today?/Promo image

Cars are advertised the way cigarettes once were: freedom, coolness and sex appeal. There is often little about the car and a lot about the pleasure of driving. Cars are shown gliding effortlessly around empty streets.

Of course, some people need cars, and nobody was very happy with my earlier proposal to ban them entirely from cities. Commenters suggested instead that we should ban TreeHuggers. And while banning car advertising might reduce the demand for big fancy Dodge Demons, Elon Musk hasn’t spent a dime on advertising and has had no trouble selling his cars. Nevertheless, Birch concludes:

Rates of smoking have been dropping ever since tobacco advertising bans came into force in 1976. Given the enormous cost to public health and amenity posed by cars, perhaps we could start considering we do the same with them.

Readers often complain that I seem quick to trample on people's rights and freedoms, just because I don't personally like being poisoned or squished. But at some point we have to ask, what can we do to stop the destruction caused by the automobile, the pollution, the congestion, the murdering of children in the streets. Perhaps an ad ban is a place to start. What do you think?

Should car ads be banned?