So this week the FDA unveiled the 9 new cigarette warning labels – graphic, plain-spoken, obvious…
…and required on all cigarette packs, cartons and ads as of September 2012. According to the Health & Human Services media release, the stop-smoking support number 1-800-QUIT-NOW is also included so it may be “seen at the time it is most relevant to smokers, increasing the likelihood that smokers who want to quit will be successful.”
We’ve certainly come a long way from “Cigarette Smoking May be Hazardous to Your Health” – the original warning, placed inconspicuously on the side of each pack of smokes – let alone from the likes of this:
Smoking kills. We know this, smokers and nonsmokers alike. There’s not an organ in a smoker’s body that’s not affected by the toxins in tobacco smoke. Dentally, cigs contribute to gum disease, bone loss in the jaw and subsequent tooth loss. Secondhand smoke even affects the oral health of children exposed to it.
Smoking stinks, pollutes, kills. We know this. Will the new labels help us know it any more or better?
According to the HHS, “This bold measure will help prevent children from smoking, encourage adults who do to quit, and ensure every American understands the dangers of smoking.” The FDA estimates that the new warnings will reduce the number of smokers by approximately 200,000 in the first year alone.
Maybe the graphic, in-your-face messaging will act as a deterrent or motivator for some, especially children. But rebellious teens or committed smokers? After all, if you’re hooked on smoking – or drinking or drugging or engaging in any kind of self-destructive behavior – you will find a way to justify it. (Remember the totally disgusting NYC anti-soda ad that went viral about a year ago – the one of the guy drinking a glass of fat? How many saw that, winced and then went right on drinking soda and other sugary beverages as usual?)
“Once, when I was a teenager,” says one former smoker we know, “a friend gave me a pack of cigarettes that had a skull and crossbones on it, all deathy. We thought it was funny. Later, people told me horrible, gruesome stories about relatives dying from emphysema or lung cancer. I’d think, ‘Man, that sucks,’ and then forget about it. Traveling in Europe, I was amused by the big, black and white warnings on cigarettes there. ‘Roken is dodelijk,’ I remember from the first pack I bought in The Netherlands. In English, it means, ‘Smoking kills.’ I thought it sounded cute.
“Seriously. You find ways to justify your smoking. You mock the warnings. You dismiss your own choices. You say, ‘We’re all going to die of something.’ You don’t quit until the downsides outweigh the pleasure smoking gives you.”
Are the new warning labels downside enough? Judge for yourself. You can check out the complete gallery in English here and in Spanish here. The FDA also has an “Interactive Store Counter Photo” so you can get an idea of what cigarette display might look like in the near future.
7/12/11 Update: A new study from Germany lends support to the idea that graphic images are apt to have little effect on current smokers.