Four a day


After Korben’s alarm clock starts the music and lights the lights, it also drops his daily allotment of cigarettes into place inside vertical glass tubes in a small dispensary mounted on the wall. Each tube has a purple number printed across the top, reinforcing the limit. A robotic voice tells reminds him to only have “four. a. day.”


The dispensary is loaded with warnings to get him to quit. Across the top we read 4™ REFILLS. Just below that is a white imperative, QUIT SMOKING. To the right another legend reinforces the principles spoken aloud, 4™ A DAY. A legend across the bottom, written in glittery red capitals reminds him that, TO QUIT IS MY GOAL. Behind the glass tubes is something like a Surgeon General’s warning about the dangers of smoking.

On the right is a small LCD panel with a mysterious readout at the top of 1:::1…1..1, a counter in the middle reading 00:04 (it looks like just after midnight in military time, but we know from his alarm clock it’s just after 02:00), and a temperature readout that confirms the temperature that the clock displays, 27.5° C. Below this panel is a small set of four buttons: two horizontal ones that sandwich two triangular ones pointing in opposite directions. Korben presses the lowest button to pick up the first cigarette, and the #1 cylinder of glass slides up. A smaller “vase” of glass holds the cigarette upright for Korben to grab.


The LCD panel

The top readout is a mystery, and the middle might be a counter of number of cigarettes remaining for the day or in the refill, but why it’s in 24-hour notation is another mystery. The temperature doesn’t make much sense here. Better might be the variable information that the addicted smoker really wants: How soon until I can get my next fix. A clock showing that time would be useful, and give the smoker something to fixate on instead of the cravings. A countdown clock might be information that the smoker wants, but it would focus his attention on the device rather than on his willpower.

To quit is my goal

Really, it’s beyond the scope of this blog post to try and state the authoritative psychology of quitting smoking, but it does seem like this device accomplishes one common strategy well, which is reminding smokers of their goal. There it is, in glittery red, in a first-person voice.

But it doesn’t do everything well. Another strategy to quit is for smokers to have reminders of the negative consequences of continuing to smoke, and the device only kind of does this with the warning label. The fact that it’s behind the glass tubes is nice since to get at the cigarettes the smoker wants, he is faced with that text. But, it’s only text, and easy to simply not read. The fact that the cylindrical glass distorts the text makes willful ignoring even easier, since it hinders readability. Better would be a visceral, instantly-recognizable image, like Australia mandated on their cigarette packaging in 2011. The disturbing nature of these images would be enhanced by the cylinder’s distortions.


On the other hand, one strategy is to eliminate the triggers that remind a smoker about cigarettes, and this dispensary does exactly the opposite. By being prominently displayed on the wall, being associated with waking up, and having the word “smoking” appear in high-contrast capital letters at eye level, it pretty much acts as a trigger to remind Korben about smoking. Better might be a hideaway dispensary, similar to his bed, refrigerator, or shower in the apartment, which hide themselves away when not in use.

Surgeon General’s Warning

The other problem is habituation. After repeated exposure to this device on a daily basis, Korben will begin to disregard the signal. A more persuasive system would change, such that the consequences and goals are kept fresh on Korben’s mind. To make sure it hits home at the right time, I would get rid of the extraneous buttons and have one “time-release” button, that requires him to press and hold it for a few seconds to get at the cigarette. During this enforced moment of boredom, the device can flash a new message and dissuasive image, giving Korben a moment to consider this and whether he really wants to keep pressing the button for his cigarette. The LCD panel would need to display these instructions first, and then switch to showing the time at which the next cigarette will be available.


5 thoughts on “Four a day

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  3. I love the analysis on this one! The way I’ve always viewed has been a bit more cynical. I see it as a cigarette company “complying” with rampant laws enforcing the company to do everything it can to discourage customers from buying their products, even going so far as to limit how many they can sell to a customer per day. This is pretty similar to the current situation such as the Australia mandate you mentioned. However, the fictional cigarette company in turn does everything it can within legal limits to keep its addicted customer coming back for more, such as making an event out of getting the daily allotment of cigarettes from the glowing, encased-in-glass dispenser.

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