Report from Romania:
"Winston" concert at the "Piranha" Club

June 15, 2002

by Lilian Pintea

A young girl sings a popular Romanian song at a
Winston-sponsored concert in Bucharest

This June I attended a live music event by a known singer Laurentiu Cazan at the “Piranha” club, located in a student dormitory region of Bucharest called “Complex Regie”. A couple of such clubs have emerged in this part of the city, where probably there is the highest concentrations of young people in town.

It was quite busy and the taxi driver, navigating thorough a sea of people, was complaining and questioning how much students actually study and if this is the best way to spend those small amounts of money they receive from parents. Lines of young people were moving across the poorly lit streets, figuring out how and where to spend the evening. The choices were not too diverse: clubs and disco.

The “Piranha” club was located at the end of a dark alley. A Romanian Internet site characterizes it as: “air, green, live music and student prices in an exotic atmosphere”. The exotic part was a bizarre mix of foreign and far away ocean and fishing themes in a touristy “traditional” Romanian setting. It was green indeed, but the air was less then promised, since big clouds of tobacco smoke was everywhere. There were about 100 or so people, and I could hardly find one or two without cigarettes.

The stage had large Winston eagles in the background, which made sense when the manager/MC introduced the musicians and started the concert with the words: "Well, since everything is ready and the Winston girls arrived, let's start the concert." (approximate translation) Photo of girls

The first music sounds broke loudly into the night air, bringing excitement. As if on cue, the Winston girls started to approach each table giving free cigarettes and advertising material claiming all that a student can aspire to in a country stuck in a long economic transition. “Do you like things with style and good taste? Do you want to be successful? Do you want to achieve more in life? … It is easier with Winston”. One Winston girl was taking some notes -- perhaps how much materials had been distributed or the reaction of the public?

Winston girl lighting a cigarette for a young female concert attendee

See the literature about Winston Super Lights that was handed out (Winston is lighter than windblown seeds and hot air balloons?!): 1, 2, 3

The music types were quite diverse, beginning with Romanian folk rock and traditional soul-touching Romanian ballads, and ending with American 60th-70th Classic Rock and Rock-N-Roll, such as "Hotel California." Then a 12-14-year-old [pre-pubescent] girl was invited to sing a popular song called “Pescarushul” (Seagull). It was a song about dreams that have to fly like a seagull, a well-known symbol of freedom and purity. Personally, I was shocked by the contrasts: this young artist singing about dreaming like a seagull's flight was in reality surrounded by the Winston eagles in the background, cigarette smoke and by an environment supporting more killing than achieving of dreams. She performed great, and her mom seemed to be very happy. Neither she nor others seemed to find this scene out of the ordinary -- or in anyway problematic.

See photos of the young girl singing, with the Winston logo in the background:1, 2, 3

I shared my feelings with a nearby young artist. We talked about the struggle of musicians to face economic realities and the role of cigarette companies sponsoring. He was a smoker, but for a year quit smoking for good. However, at one of his band concerts, also sponsored by the tobacco company, he was given (as are all the musicians) free packs of cigarettes and he started to smoke again. What a tradeoff!

Over the course of conversation, here are some of the rationalizations that young Romanians gave for their smoking habit [some sound pretty similar to ones young adults in the U.S. make]:

1. Yes, cigarettes are bad, but I know somebody who lived many years and he always smoked. (It seems that everyone expects that smoking-related health problems will pass them by as well).
2. Smoking is pleasant and cool, and we live in a society that is polluted and without a future. I do not care if I live 10 years more or less. What is the meaning of life, if not to have some fun? We live just once.
3. I do not smoke much, just for the company and I always can quit.
4. (Girls) I smoke for the company, but I will definitely quit if and when I get pregnant and have a child.
5. I smoke and this is my business. I am cool and without fear of risking my life.
6. I do not like smoking, but everyone around smokes -- it's about feeling like part of the community. When I am not around smokers I smoke less.

For more information, contact Lilian Pintea

Note: In Romania, the Winston brand is owned by Japan Tobacco International

Essential Action
Global Partnerships for Tobacco Control

P.O. Box 19405 ~ Washington, DC 20036
Tel: +1 202-387-8030 ~ Fax: +1 202-234-5176
Email: [email protected]