The Star Wars Anti-Smoking Ad was the flagship ad for weekday afternoon and Saturday morning cartoons. It was broadcast so often, at least in Massachusetts, that everyone my age even memorized the R2D2 beep sequences. And after, what, twenty years, I still think it's the best anti-smoking ad ever. Much better than the pathetic "Tobacco Is Whacko" ads.


C3PO wanders through a seemingly abandoned space station 
with a quizzical expression.

        R2?  R2D2 where are you?

C3PO rounds the corner where he sees R2D2 with a cigarette.  
R2D2 beeps in a salutory manner.

        R2!  You're on fire!

R2D2 beeps in a condescending manner.

        R2D2, you've found a cigarette!

R2D2 beeps proudly.

        Well I don't think smoking makes you look grown-up
        at all!

R2D2 beeps ashamedly.

        Smoking does dreadful things to your lungs, and is 
        very bad for your heart!

R2D2 beeps inquisitively.

        Well, I know I don't have one, but humans do,
        and I think we should set a good example!

R2D2 beeps triumphantly.  The clamp holding the cigarette 
deposits it in the trash, and retracts into R2D2's casing.

        Well done, R2!
            (to the camera)
        You know smoking's bad for you, and it doesn't make 
        you look grown up at all.  So please, don't smoke.

Credits for the American Lung Assocation roll.  In the 
corner, C3PO and R2D2 appear.

        R2?  Do you really think I don't have a heart?

R2D2 hums sadly.
Growing up in the early 1980's, I watched a lot of Saturday Morning Television when it was in its prime. It was a wonderful time to be a child in love with cartoons, and it was also the era in which I believe the children of my generation would get the seed planted in their brains that would later spawn the urge to adopt the common though agreeably unhealthy habit of smoking cigarettes.

Where would this seed come from, and how, you may ask? To take poetic license, the easy answer would be "the dark side".

There was a popular Public Service Announcement I recall from my youth, one that was constantly being shown on television, one that everybody saw. The public service announcement featured two of the most widely recognizeable celebrities in american film history. One of them was holding a lit cigarette. The other caught him, and explained to him exactly how it was bad for him.

The two celebrities were the world famous droids, C-3PO and R2-D2, stars of Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi, 3 of the top grossing films in the history of mankind.

These two icons of cinema appeared to send us a message that smoking can be hazardous to your health - a message everyone hears at some crossroad of their life - By having C-3PO explain it to a cigarette-clenching R2-D2. It has become evident, now, well over a decade since the original airing of the PSA, that it somehow failed to discourage people of my generation from smoking. The question I ask (and will indeed answer is) - How can that be?

The idea was fool proof. Take two iconic figures and have them send the message. In the early to mid-1980's, there was nobody bigger amongst children than C-3PO and R2-D2. These were two characters who audiences young and old revered and would listen to discuss any matter at great length. How could a nation of fans somehow disregard the importance of a message directed at them from these two symbols of goodness and purity?

I'll tell you how. Nobody thought the damn thing through, and they gave the cigarette to the cool robot.

What the hell were you thinking? Everybody knows C-3PO is a square! Through the course of these 3 Star Wars films - Which all the world had seen - The Robot C-3PO is constantly depicted as a worrying, uptight individual with a debatable sexual preference, whereas his counterpart R2-D2, though unintelligable, comes across as heroic, inspired, witty and clever. Somehow, no matter what mess the two droids encounter, it's R2-D2 who can get them out. C-3PO has no tact or sense when it comes to dealing with real problems. He never wants adventure or excitement, he wants to do his work. In every single Star Wars film to date, C-3PO has been either a) the guy who doesn't get let in on the joke or b) the butt of the joke all together. Nobody respects C-3PO! If he tells R2-D2 not to smoke, the kids of America can safely assume R2-D2 knows what he's doing.

Here's an idea fellas: Give the robot everybody likes a cigarette, and give the robot everybody laughs off the speech about how they're bad for you.

If you ask me, they should have given C-3PO the cigarette. Think about it. Kids wouldn't even know what to make of it! They're initial confusion over why in God's good graces tight-ass C-3PO would want a cigarette at all is probably enough to halt the idea of smoking in their doe-eyed little heads immediately. Nobody would think C-3PO doing anything was worth emulating. If they had designed the PSA as such, it could have been the most successful tool in the battle against cigarette use ever.

I suppose it only goes to show that in the battle of big tobacco, it helps to have a keen sense of american pop culture.

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