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Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Cigarette Peddlers, or Women in Shiny Black Dresses

Posted on Thu, Jul 9, 2009 at 11:58 AM

Our intern Rachael is having quite a tough time this summer, having taken off on a two-week trip around Europe. Because we pay her nothing, we insisted she continue to blog from abroad. Here’s her first post.

In Portland, I'm used to being accosted by skinny hipster kids asking for money to save the trees, save the children, save the ocean, save music in schools, save their mother. And when I lived in Florence as an exchange student last year, I got used to being accosted by other American kids passing out flyers for clubs, parties, and pub crawls. But last night, sitting on the patio of my favorite bar in Florence, I experienced something new. What they were peddling, I wasn't expecting.

The pouring rain had stopped, and sipping on my Martini Bianco, I was enjoying watching all the designer Italian shoes walk by. I noticed two pairs of identical shiny black pumps authoritatively walk up to a group of young men on the patio. I looked up. Two women with shiny black dresses and shiny black hair were giving some sort of spiel to the boys. Clearly they were taken in. Italian men are famous for their drooling over lovely women, so I would expect nothing less than full-on ogling when two thin, beautiful women wearing tight, shiny black everything approach them. Shiny black haired girl number one reached into her shiny black patent leather bag and passed around some little boxes. Smiles all around. The women moved onto another group.

What was going on? No flyers, no petitions, no exchange of money. I watched a few minutes longer until they hit up my table.

more after the jump!

"Buona sera, ragazze. Fumaste?"

"Buona sera," I responded. No, neither of us smokes, I told her.

"Okay, grazie." They went to the next table, at which there were two young women about the same age as my sister and me.

This time, I could hear the conversation. The girl with shiny black hair and a shiny black clipboard asked a few questions and wrote down a few answers. Then the other girl with shiny black hair and the shiny black bag reached in and pulled out…two packs cigarettes?

As it turns out, these girls were giving out free cigarettes to get people excited about whatever new type of tobacco product their company had just launched. I watched them go in and out of all the bars on the street, passing out free cigarettes to almost everyone.

At a time when the United States, and Portland specifically, is making such a huge effort to curb smoking, this left me flabbergasted. Portlanders can’t even smoke in bars anymore, let alone give out promotional cigarettes. Can you imagine the backlash should some righteous Portland citizen discover that people in their city were giving out free cigarettes? There would be fines, lawsuits, a blog frenzie, and someone would probably find some elected official to recall.

-Rachael Marcus

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