I Can Quit Anytime I Want

By The Metric Maven

Bulldog Edition

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.

Chesterfield 101 Cigarettes — A Silly Millimeter Longer

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.

If you liked this essay and wish to support the work of The Metric Maven, please visit his Patreon Page and contribute. Also purchase his books about the metric system:

The first book is titled: Our Crumbling Invisible Infrastructure. It is a succinct set of essays  that explain why the absence of the metric system in the US is detrimental to our personal heath and our economy. These essays are separately available for free on my website,  but the book has them all in one place in print. The book may be purchased from Amazon here.

The second book is titled The Dimensions of the Cosmos. It takes the metric prefixes from yotta to Yocto and uses each metric prefix to describe a metric world. The book has a considerable number of color images to compliment the prose. It has been receiving good reviews. I think would be a great reference for US science teachers. It has a considerable number of scientific factoids and anecdotes that I believe would be of considerable educational use. It is available from Amazon here.

The third book is called Death By A Thousand Cuts, A Secret History of the Metric System in The United States. This monograph explains how we have been unable to legally deal with weights and measures in the United States from George Washington, to our current day. This book is also available on Amazon here.

10 thoughts on “I Can Quit Anytime I Want

  1. Maven, I think this is your best post yet, with such an artful synthesis of metaphors.

    When it comes to the concept of metrication, I think there are indeed TOO FEW people who understand the implications of what we are advocating. There is so much emotion being pumped out over this issue that it isn’t often we can show the true colors of a genuine changeover to metric. One of my “Metric Today” articles found me unearthing what is a major public misconception, that metrication involved only some kind of inane busy work of converting BETWEEN systems, instead of it being a national program to establish a sole SI national measurement standard.

  2. Maven, I remember those commercials also. Probably like most Americans, the “silly millimeter longer,” didn’t really register with me then. A few posts back, I stated that my family and I were going to visit Quebec Province, Canada. A few road signs in some of the adjoining U.S. states had metric units, much to my delight. I enjoyed seeing metric units in Canada and for the most part, our tour guides used metrics. At least on one of our tours the guide, an older gentleman, used both units. I cringed at that. We did buy some Canadian products, such as maple syrup, to bring back with us and the labels were all metric. Our previous visits to Canada were to British Columbia Province and there were road signs that stated that X km/hr was X **/hr in the obsolete American units. I often think that the only way the U.S. will convert to metric is for all of the rest of the world to refuse trade and other relations with us: By refusing our domestic air carriers transit unless their altimeters are metric; refusing to accept shipping containers with size and weight marked in anything but metric units; by refusing entry to automobile traffic with the speedometer using dual markings; etc. Until business and industry are hit hard in the wallet and in turn put pressure on our less than brilliant politicians, I don’t believe much progress, unfortunately, will be done in converting to SI.

    • This would definitely help the Canadian tourism industry, and not produce any sort of boycott or backlash!

      Are you nuts?

      And, just FYI, Canadian airspace and rail is still in Imperial. They still use the 53′ trailer on their trucks.

      Because of pressure from the United States, since 2005, Canada has actually taken steps to teach Imperial to its students.

      • I know that Canada is not totally metric, but I do believe they are further along than is the U.S. Canada and Mexico are the only countries to which Americans can drive to cross borders and I know such a drastic action would most probably cause a backlash on both sides respectively. Also, I understand that in some parts of the world air traffic control is metric and in other parts it is in the Imperial units, most probably to accommodate U.S. air carriers. I didn’t know that the U.S. has pressured Canada to teach Imperial units to students. I know that what I suggested about having our allies and trade partners put pressure on the U.S. to go totally metric has very little chance of happening, I just feel that such a drastic action is about the only way for SI to be fully implemented here. In the past I have contacted the senators and representatives for my state, Alabama, with my arguments for going metric. The replies that I received amounted to a brushoff, with one stating that he believed that the system in use worked fine for our purposes. So much for trying to convince legal beagles to do something that would really help their constituents.

      • Strange. Their law (trucks on highways) looks pretty metric to me (not even any Imperial lengths or weights in parentheses).
        Of course, lengths in feet that are less than metric maximum would be legal.

        On the Imperial education remark, you are unfortunately correct. After using metric through 9th grade in Ontario, in 10th grade they are confronted with real-world metric muddle problems and conversions, such as:
        >perform everyday conversions between the imperial system and the metric system (e.g., millilitres to cups, centimetres to inches) and within these systems (e.g., cubic metres to cubic centimetres, square feet to square yards), as necessary to solve problems involving measurement (Sample problem: A vertical post is to be supported by a wooden pole, secured on the ground at an angle of elevation of 60°, and reaching 3 m up the post from its base. If wood is sold by the foot, how many feet of wood are needed to make the pole?);

        I suppose this teaches them to deal with Americans, but wouldn’t Customary be better? Imperial gallons are now mythical, used in mpg, but not legal meaurement in trade. Right across the border, well, American gallons.

        • (I wish I could edit)

          After 9 years of learning how easy the metric system is, can you imagine how much they must “love” learning all the absurd conversions both to and within Imperial. I think this is a very Pyrrhic victory for the Imperial side.

          Also the basis appears to be work in metric, convert to those silly units.

  3. Back in the day when I used to smoke cigarettes and I was a mobile radio communications troop “Ground Rat” in the Air Force, I preferred the “100’s” because I could use them to measure out antenna elements in the absence of a tape measure or construct a crude measure using them as a reference. Albeit in decimeter resolution. Working in the HF band, it was close enough. I quit smoking cigarettes when I discovered how difficult it was to smoke on a motorcycle.

  4. BTW, the millimeter seems to be much more accepted, in everyday use, than, e.g., the kilometer, in the US and UK: rather strange, but perhaps it’s so also because the millimeter doesn’t “touch” the obsolete customary units so much, but rather intuitively completes them in some way, filling a void (i.e., the inch is too big, and thus the millimeter cones in as a handy complement).

    Of course, if the SI were really a revolutionary, open source (constantly developed from below), and future-oriented system (and it could certainly be so, if it evolved, even radically: but today it’s sadly not at this level), for example, also kilometers, megameters and gigameters would be the shared norm, across the entire planet – but, sadly, this hasn’t been the case, yet (and so, “customary” metrication still rules: sadly, a quite limited subset of the SI’s potentiality)…

  5. A few years back, after filling my car with gas, I was walking into the convenience store to settle with the cashier, for you see the ‘pay at the pump’ feature was relatively new and I simply didn’t feel right just driving off without acknowledging that I had purchased $40 worth of gasoline to a human being. As I walked in an old school mate was exiting puffing on a cigarette.

    I said “Dan, those things are going to kill you!”

    He enthusiastically replied, “I’ll never quit, if they put me in an iron lung, I’ll still smoke!”

    Change is certainly difficult but today I ‘pay at the pump.’

    Another great post Mavin!

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