‘Thank you for Smoking’ is a satirical comedy drama movie based on Christopher`s Buckley`s novel of the same name. The movie is centered on the life experiences of Nick Naylor, a talented tobacco lobbyist and Vice President of a lobby group, ‘Academy of Tobacco’. The movie focuses on Nick`s experiences in his bid to defend cigarettes from being branded with a warning sign of a skull and crossbones labels on all packets. This anti-tobacco campaign is strongly levied by a congressman, Senator Finistirre, who introduces this bill to the Senate to legislate the branding of all cigarette packets with the skull and crossbones warning label. In his lobby-efforts to stop this anti-tobacco campaign from succeeding, Nick is encountered by countless experiences where he has to exercise his persuasion skills to pull out of tight spots. This paper seeks to examine how arguments and persuasion are presented throughout the movie, and how they unveil the truths, realities, and values of the audience, society, and government. I will focus on the argumentative and persuasive parts of the movie that bring out the rhetorical strategies associated with persuasion throughout the movie, ‘Thank you For Smoking’.
The film`s opening scene begins with Nick Naylor demonstrating a line of logical thought in answering questions about a teenage boy sick with cancer. Robin Willinger, a 15-year-old from Racine Wisconsin is presented as a kid who was recently diagnosed with cancer from smoking. In this debate, Nick sways the audience by persuading them into taking his side of the argument as a tobacco lobbyist. Nick begins by discrediting the common myth that tobacco-smoking leads to lung cancer. He enthralls the audience by telling them of a researcher who could not find the much publicized claim that nicotine caused lung cancer. Nick further surprises the audience when he notifies them that tobacco companies actually want their customers healthy and alive as the customers sustain the tobacco business. Through this ingenious persuasion, he wins the hearts of many among the audience who are convinced of his side of the argument.
Nick brings out the skill of persuasion as proving your opponent`s opinion as wrong. He proves this in one such instance in his conversation with a kid who brings up the topic of smoking. The kid tells Nick that its mum says that smoking kills. Nick persuades the kid into taking his opinion as the right side of the argument by showing him that his mum is not an accredited expert or scientific researcher of any kind, and therefore her opinion remains questionable. This is a good example of how arguments should be driven in persuading one`s opponents.
Another part of the movie that brings out persuasion is in the beginning of the film when Nick appeals to his boss, BR, on how to bring back characters smoking in movies. Nick argues that by depicting characters smoking in movies, the tobacco industry could get a great boost as this would paint cigarettes as a ‘cool thing’. Nick`s ideas to include movie stars as consumers of cigarettes, shows his persuasive vision in promoting the tobacco industry. Movie stars are highly adorable by people who watch them and inclusion of characters who smoke will greatly influence people`s perception into viewing smoking cigarettes as a cool thing. Persuasion as brought out by Nick involves changing people`s perception to the desired direction.
The element of persuasion is also brought out when Nick is giving his son, Joey, tips on how to argue correctly. Nick asserts that a correct argument can never be wrong, “That's the beauty of argument, if you argue correctly, you're never wrong.” By engaging Joey is a simple argument on ice cream flavors, Nick impacts significant knowledge pertaining to arguments and persuasion to his son. He shows his son that the most important part of an argument is proving to the audience that your opponent is wrong. By this simple action, you will not have convinced your opponent to support your opinions, but you will have proven his ‘wrong’ argument to the audience and by implication emerged the winner in the argument. From this lesson, we can draw that the audience plays an important role in determining the winner in an argument.
The movie climaxes in the widely heated debate in a senate hearing concerning Senator`s Finistirre`s bill on branding all cigarette packets with a skull and crossbones warning label. Nick shrewdly testifies against this bill by showing the congress that the negative effects of cigarette-smoking is widely known by everyone including its users. His argument to this topic is widely contested against by including a Hispanic man and a doctor brought by Senator Finistirre. The medical doctor presented staggering statistics of deaths caused by lung cancer, which results from tobacco-smoking. The doctor asserts that the inclusion of the skull and crossbones as a warning label on cigarette packets would serve as a universal warning to everyone including non-English speakers. Nick strikes back at this argument by stating that American consumers were already aware of the negative effects of tobacco-smoking and that they held their own choice to make decisions on whether to smoke cigarettes or not. Nick adds fuel to his part of the argument by citing other harmful products. He adds cheese which can build cholesterol levels to the extent of causing heart failure; Boeing planes, and Ford cars which are also associated with high levels of risk to their users. According to Nick, if the risk associated with cigarettes could amount to attracting a skull and crossbones warning, then should other harmful or risky products bear the same. Nick is also grilled on the issue of teenage –smokers, where he asserts that responsible parenting should come into play. According to Nick, parents should be responsible for the right growth and development of their children, which should bring a halt to the great number of teenage smokers. He also added that if his son decided to smoke cigarettes upon reaching maturity, he would offer to buy him his first cigarette. This brilliant argument against Senator Finistirre`s bill wins him endless accolade, and the bill is ruled in his favor.