Sometimes you gotta create what you want to be a part of. Geri Weitzman
A number of years ago, I wrote an article for a local newspaper about a new and controversial product called Alcoholic Ice Cream. The idea was to infuse alcohol into standard ice cream flavors, packaging them with a label for distilled spirits. It never really caught on beyond the MidWest where it was born, which is probably a good thing. I wonder, though, about its sort of twice-removed cousin, the nicotini, which burst upon the scene last summer to offset the smoking ban in American restaurants. A liquid cigarette, this drink comes complete with all the nicotine rush and tobacco aftertaste found in an entire pack of Camels. The effect is achieved by soaking tobacco leaves in vodka overnight and deadening the tobacco juices harshness by adding five different liqueurs. The end result is a drink, which according to one Fort Lauderdale resident, "tastes like a cross between vodka and chewing tobacco."
The tobacco martini is the lethal brainchild of Larry Wald, owner of the Cathode Ray Club on Los Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It comes in several forms and varies in price from $3.50 a shot (Quick Puff) to $5.50 for a full cocktail. The regular nicotini has more bite than a martini and leaves a noticeable aftertaste. The menthol variety contains crème de menthe and has a cough drop taste while The Black Lung has a coffee flavor produced by Kahlua, its main ingredient.
Like any new idea, the nicotini has its opposers. Although more than three hundred drinks have been served since the smoking ban was initiated last July, not everyone is ecstatic about the nicotini. Anti-smoking advocates and the medical establishment worry that there is no way to know how much nicotine is in the drinks and how much is potentially dangerous. While nothing in Floridas new anti-smoking law or health code inhibits such drinks, experts still have many concerns about side effects that could include dizziness, heart palpitations and even nicotine poisoning. The biggest criticism seems to be in its comparison with the nicotine patch and gum used to stop smoking. Experts argue that although they are comprised of nicotine as well, these products also contain warnings about how they should be used. With the drink, nicotine content could vary widely depending on how many tobacco leaves were used and how long they fermented in the tobacco-vodka marinade.
Larry Wald dismisses all criticism. His first idea was to offer hard candy for smokers to suck on, but he soon discarded that idea for a more creative one. Why encourage one vice when you can do two at the same time? A vice in the house is worth two in the bar, as the saying sort of goes. His creativity, it must be said, is evident, as it is Mr. Larry Wald who developed the Fort Lauderdale clubs dating game and Dynasty-episode night. According to Mr. Wald "I say when life gives you a smoking ban, have a nicotini. Its
fun but its not going to be a big seller. When people want a cigarette, we can offer them a shot."
Some gay anti-smoking advocates are as incensed as health experts are because Cathode is a major gay nightspot in Fort Lauderdale. Studies have shown that smoking is twice as common among gay men as their straight counterparts; and the tobacco industry once targeted the gay community to increase sales under a marketing campaign code-named Project Scum. Tobacco ads first appeared in gay magazines back in 1991 and even today the most popular ones, like OUT and The Advocate, regularly run tobacco advertising.
Activists argue that the nicotini is counterproductive to all of the fledgling efforts underway to curb smoking among the gay community. According to Elise Lindborg, who runs an Internet-based project called The Gay American Smoke Out, "The nicotini sounds like a cocktail of death." Tony Miros, a South Florida columnist and smoker, says, "He hopes other places will follow in Cathodes lead." His skepticism, however, also prompted him to comment that he would only try the drink after seeing someone else take a sip or two.
Neither activists nor those involved in pitching the nicotini have considered the romantic spirit heretofore associated with both smoking and drinking, two very unromantic and dangerous vices when taken to excess. Will the nicotini be able to capture some of the media magic as well? For example, will we ever see the likes of Paul Henreid pouring two nicotinis, one for himself and one for Bette Davis, as he did with lighting cigarettes in that old classic film, Now Voyageur? What will Humphrey Bogart and James Dean substitute for the cigarettes almost always seen dangling from their most formidable lips? All up and down Main Street America, nobody cares.
What does all this mean to the marketing and advertising world? Well, perhaps an entirely new pitch altogether. Are we about to market Marlboro Manhattans, Camel Chardonnays and Courvoisiers (for those above that)? How about Rum and Tangueray Tarletons, whose drinkers would rather drink than fight and menthol Mint Juleps and Winston Wallbangers? If so, will we go one step further and capture filtered or unfiltered or low and high tar drinks as well? (Perhaps we even need leaded and unleaded varieties, such as that found in Texaco and other fine gasolines?) Who knows where this can lead? I only know that I am happy that I gave up cigarettes 14 years ago. If I need to invent anything, its a bottle of wine that can uncork itself and a glass that can wash, dry and put itself away in the cupboard!
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