Sunday, September 15 2013 11:15

Cracker Barrel Restaurants and the Big Tobacco Villain...

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Updated and Added to Greatest Hits, 8/10/14

Last night, I took my family to dinner at the local Cracker Barrel Old County Store and Restaurant. It's one of our favorite places for a lot of reasons, and my oldest daughter is quick to point out that "it's like Grandma Cindy's house," and she's right. The decor, the fireplace, the smell of great food and the seasonal offerings in the store section certainly do bring my Mom's house to mind. But last night, as I enjoyed my Country Fried Steak, I realized that I have a problem with the Cracker Barrel.

As I took a bite, I happened to look up directly in front of me to see one of the countless pieces of vintage advertising that adorns the walls of any Cracker Barrel Restaurant: "Chesterfield Cigarettes - Best for You"

Now, back when Chesterfield was big, everyone from Ronald Reagan and Bob Hope to Willie Mays and Santa Claus smoked and advertised the brand. They said that smoking was cool... good for you... and helped friends have a Merry Christmas (they even sold a "Christmas Card Carton"). While it's history, those were different times and 2013 is a very different place. I'm an ex-smoker that struggles each and every day to stay an ex-smoker. While the addict in me would love to just run light up and let go, there's a thousand reasons why I can't, and the first two are my daughters, Addie and Finn. I've written about my struggle at length, and while some might not understand it, it is a big deal and a daily fight. I absolutely loved smoking... but I love my daughters more.

Vintage or not, I don't like being reminded of the great time I had smoking while sitting at a family restaurant.

Weird thing is, back before it was illegal in the State of Illinois, I enjoyed smoking inside that very Cracker Barrel... in a dedicated smoking section. Different times, indeed, and I feel bad for subjecting others to my habit at the time. But in 2013, it's weird to be in Cracker Barrel and to have this be the last thing you see on the way to the washroom... an ad for Fatima Cigarettes:


Sure, it's probably 50 years old... but it's advertising that still works, prompting an ex-smoker like me to spend a few minutes in the washroom pondering the prospect of kicking back on one of those wooden rockers on the front porch of the Cracker Barrel, casually chain-smoking 'till the sun goes down.

Not cool.

If these old ads can affect me in this way, it's likely that they're having the same effect on others. And with my kids... are they seeing them and starting to think, "Hey, these cigarette things look pretty cool!" I sure hope not. 

In 2013, it's a strange contrast to see countless "No Smoking" signs adorning the walls of a restaurant that's loaded with ghosts of Big Tobacco past. While I think that the Old Country Stores did away with sales of Candy Cigarettes somewhat recently, I have this weird thought that the villains at Philip Morris USA (aka Altria) and R.J. Reynolds are looming over Cracker Barrel like evil puppeteers, looking for one last way to dangle their wares in front of new "customers" through windows into a time long since past.

I don't like the prospect of a new generation of kids being influenced by decades-old advertising. 

James Zahn

James Zahn is best-known as The Rock Father™, a media personality, commentator, adventurer and raconteur. He is the Owner, Publisher, and Editor-in-Chief of THE ROCK FATHER™ Magazine. In January, 2019, after nearly a decade of publishing The Rock Father™ Magazine, he joined Adventure Media and Events as Senior Editor of The Toy Book—the leading trade publication for the toy industry since 1984, as well as The Pop Insider — a destination for all things pop culture, and The Toy Insider — the leading consumer guide for toys and games. He is also editor of The Toy Report, a weekly newsletter published by The Toy Book each Thursday. Zahn has over 27 years of experience in the entertainment, retail and publishing industries.

He regularly serves as a Brand Ambassador and spokesperson for several Globally-recognized pop culture and lifestyle brands in addition to consulting for a number of toy manufacturers. 

Creatively, James has directed/edited music videos, lyric videos, and album trailers for bands such as FEAR FACTORY, has appeared as an actor in feature films and commercials, written comic books, and performed in bands. He currently serves as an artist manager and video director for PRODUCT OF HATE, whose debut album was released by Napalm Records in 2016, distributed by ADA/Warner Music in the U.S. with Universal Music handling global. A new album has been completed and is set for release this year.

Zahn and/or his work have been featured in/on CNN, NBC, ABC, WGN, CBS, GCTN, G4, The Chicago Tribune, Forbes, MarketWatch, Reuters, BusinessWire, Fangoria, Starlog and more. He's appeared as a music expert on CNN's AC360 alongside Anderson Cooper, and has been interviewed by Larry King. In the past he served as a writer for the Netflix Stream Team,  Fandango Family and PBS KIDS, penned articles for Sprout and PopSugar, and was a contributor to Chicago Parent.

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