The EU has just launched the latest stage of its anti-tobacco campaign, a ludicrous and undoubtedly costly cartoon series aimed at children. "Helpers" continues the patronising and nannying trend of the EU's campaign on the issue so far, with an added dash of childhood propaganda.
Helpers follows three characters whose lives have been so blighted by the evils of smoking that they try to sabotage a cigarette factory. Bizarrely, in the resulting explosion they are covered in toxic waste (which, as we all know, runs out of cigarette factories in a glowing green river), and gain super powers. Armed with their new powers, they "try to save smokers and non-smokers from the negative effects of tobacco, by giving them absurd tips and advice." Yes, really.
The site seems to have a schizophrenic attitude towards smokers - one minute it is trying to "help" and "save" them from a horrible fate, but the next it is portraying smokers as chainsaw-wielding eco-vandals, and calling them "evil". Like this:
Even more dubious is the site's function as propaganda explicitly aimed at children - the start of the first episode warns that it is "Not suitable for anyone under the age of 15", but the age section of the form to register for updates, emails and future episodes starts at age 10.
The whole tenor of the cartoons and the site itself is clearly targeted at children, and the message blurring is immense - smokers apparently chop down trees, pour toxic waste on the landscape and lose the love of their partners as a result of their habit.
Most bizarre about all this, though, is that the EU is a major subsidiser of tobacco growing. In 2008, the EU set aside 300 million for subsidising tobacco and supporting tobacco farmers. If tobacco is so evil, and if it deserves all the opprobrium that this website is flinging at it, why is the EU bankrolling its production?
Surely it would be far more effective, as well as more ethical, for the EU to scrap those subsidies in the first place? If they weren't propping up with taxpayers' money, perhaps there would be fewer smokers for them to campaign against.
If that's not enough to make your blood boil, here is the first episode. Enjoy - you paid for it!