Peter Stuyvesant’s Adelaide Smokeasy
Last Tuesday night, Adelaide hosted a secretive and controversial party – a promotional event for Imperial Tobacco’s Peter Stuyvesant cigarette brand, which hosts similar parties in a different Australian city each year.
The invitation-only bash at the Queen’s Theatre was called a “VIP event“, although it’s unclear who actually attended. And Adelaide’s Sunday Mail was outraged that it was not only at a non-smoking venue, but that the venue was also owned by the state government, “which funds anti-smoking campaigns”.
Yeah yeah, it’s pretty immoral to throw a party celebrating a product that’s known to kill people. But tobacco companies are forced to resort to events like these because, thanks to the Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Act 1992, all cigarette advertising except point-of-sale material is banned, and cigarette companies can’t offer sponsorships to individuals or organisations – only to cultural and sporting events “of international significance”.
State legislation further complicates the promotional activities that tobacco companies can undertake. For instance, Victoria’s Tobacco Act 1987 specifies that only one pack of each product in a tobacco line may be visible at point of sale, that competitions run by tobacco companies can’t offer any non-smoking-related prizes, that free cigarette samples cannot be distributed to the public, and that cigarette vending machines can only be placed in bars, bottle shops and casinos within sight of the bar.
Meanwhile, South Australia’s Tobacco Products Regulation Act 1997 outlaws that jaunty and time-honoured profession, the cigarette girl, by making it illegal to carry a tray of tobacco products through a venue.
Apart from the limited display advertising they’re permitted on vending machine lightboxes and where cigarettes are sold, all tobacco companies can do to promote their products is to throw a lavish private party, paid for by the tobacco company, at which there happen to be free cigarettes. And nobody is obliged to promote anything in exchange for being there.
Because South Australia’s tobacco restriction laws don’t prohibit vending machines in non-licensed venues, Imperial Tobacco has also attempted to pay fashion retailers to host them, as The Australian reported last year. This didn’t fly with SA Senator Nick Xenophon, who said this legal loophole should be closed: “It’s at the very least a very cynical piece of marketing.”
The Sunday Mail got up in arms that the invitation to the Adelaide party consisted of two free packs of Stuyvies in a special stainless steel box. But it’s one possible interpretation of the Act that free samples are legal if they are not distributed to the general public, and if the people who enjoy this nicotine-laden largesse don’t speak about it publicly. Hence the “secrecy” of the event.
After all this, we basically want to know: was the party any good? It was hard to track down anyone who’d actually gone, but Twitter user ouiouistiti wrote: “Had a last minute invite to a ‘top secret’ party at The Queens Theatre tonight. Have had to put my morals aside to attend this one…” She later tweeted about the event (it had apparently included tattoo artists and an excellent saxophonist) but wisely deleted the post from her Twitter account.
Last November, Peter Stuyvesant held a similar party at the Old Melbourne Gaol. The Enthusiast spoke to someone who was in attendance but who wished to remain anonymous. According to our insider, tobacco company promotional parties are legendary in the hospitality industry because staff at bars that stock the cigarette brands in question are regularly invited. As in Adelaide, the Melbourne Peter Stuyvesant party invitation consisted of two packets of cigarettes in a custom-made Stuyvesant tin.
“It was such a stupid party,” groans our insider, who says it was clearly the work of a large event management company. “There were all sorts of ‘happenings’ in the cells: in one cell was a guy doing paintings of naked women, with actual naked women in there. There was a guy taking pictures of you, like mug shots. And there was one of the worst bands I’ve ever seen: a couple of muscled-up guys pseudo-rapping, an awful, Fergie-esque woman, and a portly DJ… you get the picture. They were playing terrible mashups as well.”
As far as the catering went, “They served drinks in prison mugs – metal ones, the kind you’d rattle along the bars of your cell. That was actually quite cool. People were wandering up to the bar with five or six of these mugs in their hands.” There were also female promoters dressed in prison guard uniforms, “slapping guys on the arse. They were meant to be sexy prison guards.”
The worst part, apparently, is that there weren’t that many free Stuyvies at the party. “I actually had to leave to go and buy cigarettes.”
Our insider denies that it was a “VIP” party, saying he didn’t spy any celebrities. So, what was the crowd like? “People really involved in the club scene and their coked-up buddies. A lot of plastic-looking people. It was all very ‘south of the Yarra’. And everybody seemed so much taller than me, and I’m not a short person… It was horrid, it really was.”
If the Adelaide party was anything as lame as this report suggests the Melbourne one was, nobody need lose any sleep over it. Indeed, given that Peter Stuyvesant is already the unofficial cancer stick of choice among hipsters and indie types, we might well ask whether a party like this actually damages its credibility and generates bad word of mouth for the brand.
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