By The Metric Maven
In 1967 cigarettes were advertised on television. One of the most successful ad campaigns was for Benson and Hedges 100’s cigarettes. The commercial started out saying “Oh the disadvantages of the new Benson and Hedges 100’s. They’re a lot longer than King Size, and that takes some getting used to.” (If you actually watch some of these commercials look for Ken Mars of Young Frankenstein and McLean Stevenson of M*A*S*H.)
One of the humorous vignettes that follow shows the driver of a Volkswagen Beetle rotating his head quickly to view an attractive woman passing by, only to smash the end of his cigarette into the closed driver side window. The song “Disadvantages of You,” by The Brass Ring plays as another man lights his cigarette, at an inappropriately short distance from the end of the cigarette. To his surprise, a vendor of balloons pops one as he fills it from a tank. Humorous scenes continue until the narrator ends with:
Benson and Hedges 100’s are the new longer filter cigarettes, three puffs longer, four
puffs longer, maybe five puffs longer than king size–once you get the hang of them.
It was clear from the commercial that puffs were not a very accurate way to measure cigarettes. In the 1960s people had no idea what the 100 in Benson and Hedges 100’s was, but that was about to change. Chesterfield then provided an educational service via advertising, by introducing their Chesterfield 101 cigarettes. That classic 1960s commercial started out at the scene of a wedding in which a woman asserts she always cries at weddings. The narrator then states:
“One-o-one, one millimeter longer than the 100’s.”
Man: “One millimeter longer?—must be a joke.”
Second Man: “I was the first guy that ever dated her.”
Woman: “Doesn’t look any longer”
Man: “It’s silly.”
Chorus: “A silly millimeter longer, one-o-one. A silly millimeter longer, one-o-one.”
Man: “Good—it sure tastes good.”
Second Woman: “I’d like it even if it wasn’t one millimeter longer.”
Narrator: “One-o-one it tastes one better.”
At that point it was known that cigarettes are 100 mm long, and 101’s were a millimeter longer than that, which is a very small dimension. Benson & Hedges also advertised it had a king size version. They marketed these as Benson & Hedges 85’s. Wow, didn’t any one see the irony in having imperial titled “King Size” cigarettes which are 85 millimeters in length? Well, Americans didn’t seem to realize they were smoking metric sized products with a French name either. The word cigarette is French for “small cigar.”
The battles with public smoking had only dawned when these commercials were aired. Many people when confronted about their smoking would often say “I can quit anytime I want.” This indicated that they were really in control, not addicted to nicotine, and smoked by choice. If they became convinced smoking was a bad idea, they would just quit–no problem. Amazingly over the next few decades Americans began to give up cigarettes until it now appears to be a minority activity in the US.
When I took machine shop class a couple of years back, there was a fellow there who had been a Navy machinist. He would become visibly annoyed at my metric assertions. One day in frustration he walked over to a milling machine with a digital read-out and said “look we can quit using inches whenever we want, just poke the button.” He did so and millimeters were displayed. What I later realized from Pat Naughtin’s essays and videos was this was a perfect example of how dual scales prohibit metrication rather than promote it. His assertion also made me think of the old cigarette commercials, and how as long as cigarettes were available everywhere, people had a hard time quitting. In those days a smoker who was without cigarettes, and trying to quit, could always “bum a cigarette” from a person nearby. Cold turkey was the only way to quit smoking, but the availability of cigarettes made it hard. In those days there were even cigarette machines, like soda dispensing machines, in most malls—and anyone–even minors–could purchase cigarettes from them.
The machine shop teacher didn’t realize that changing to metric was not just a matter of millimeters, but also milliliters, grams, kilograms, newtons, pascals, and so on. Like a smoker who knew how to quit, but never tried, he had no idea just how much was involved with embracing metric, and as long as he had the old way nearby and accessible, he would make no change. He was “just blowing smoke.” This sort of delusion is why anti-metric people, including the former Director of NIST, David Gallagher, feel comfortable to dismiss metric by saying “use it if you want, you have that choice.” They are essentially saying they can quit Olde English whenever they like, and yet never do. Dual measurement devices are as effective at promoting the metric system as the non-smoking sections of restaurants were at keeping out smoke.
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