The Scarification of Cigarettes

by Tera Tuten on August 8, 2011

Dry little warnings printed on the package didn’t do the job. Thirty years of dire public service announcements didn’t get it done, either. Education isn’t working, even though the statistics should be enough to ensure nobody ever smokes again, anywhere on earth. Despite all this effort, and despite the fact that 5.4 million people die as a direct result of smoking each year, people still smoke.

Think about that for a minute. Smoke doesn’t taste good, at least not at first. On the contrary, for most people, smoking is pretty unpleasant at first. It hurts your lungs, stings your eyes, and makes you do some pretty uncool coughing. It leaves a nasty taste in your mouth and a nasty lingering odor on your clothes. And yet people continue. The first time is understandable. You’re a kid, your friends do it, you want to conform, to look more grown up, to be cool. It’s the persistence that baffles me.

The FDA has recently taken a new approach to inform people about how deadly smoking is. Since you might not have a timely reminder when you’re lighting up, new packaging will feature graphic, in-your-face ads depicting the dangers and consequences of smoking. Next year, smokers will tap cigarettes out of packages that look like this:

The FDA hopes that the timing of these graphic messages, delivered in the moment a smoker decides to light up, will act as a deterrent. Other images include a man presumably dead with post-autopsy staples, a grief-stricken woman with a message that nonsmokers are also at risk, and blackened, diseased lungs on a split screen with pink, healthy lungs. A total of nine images were chosen to represent different aspects of smoking. One depicts a quitter opening a button up shirt like Superman to proudly display a tee shirt emblazoned with “I Quit” under a no-smoking icon. The graphics will be displayed on the top half of each cigarette package, front and back. They will also be displayed on all cigarette advertising.

The new graphic labels will hit the shelves in September of 2012, and the FDA hopes to see a reduction of 213,000 smokers 2013, and smaller numbers dropping out each year after. However, this prediction is not without detractors. Some research indicates that the graphic pictures may reinforce the habit for smokers whose self-esteem is identified with smoker’s image.

A similar program is working in Canada, but not as well as predicted, possibly because there aren’t enough government-sponsored smoking cessation programs.

Not surprisingly, the big tobacco companies aren’t exactly jumping for joy. R.J. Reynolds has filed a lawsuit charging that the warning labels constitute an affront to their constitutional right to free speech.

Twenty years ago, Dennis Leary, comedian and dedicated smoker, pointed out that smokers have an amazing ability to ignore warnings. His spot-on comedy routine included this pearl of wisdom:

“You could have cigarettes that come in a black pack with a skull and crossbones on the front called “Tumors,” and smokers would line up around the block saying, “I can’t wait to get my hands on these [bleeping] things.””

What do you think? Will smokers pick up a pack, look at the picture on the package, and decide to chew gum instead? And just as interestingly, what will this reveal about the true power of advertising? How often do we see violent video games and music marketed to youths and cited in incidences of violence? If graphic images serve as effective deterrents on cigarette packaging, will the results spill over to other markets? Should be interesting, however it shakes out.


{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

aslam malik 08.21.11 at 4:05 am

smoking and tobaco use is an addiction like any other. Therefore the approach to get people to quit has to be a multipronged one. A sustained effort from public(govt.) and private (eg. NGOs) is needed.Methods adapted by these agencies should appeal to all classes of the populace. People from all walks of life can volunteer to spread the message.Celebrities can play an important role. We all know that smoking has zero benefits except for the manufacturer n seller.

Keith 08.24.11 at 11:44 am

I have a perspective of a person that started smoking in their teens and smoked for 23 years. I just stopped for my latest try at stopping on May 9th this year. I can say that once a person has had their magic cig it will not matter what is on the pack, they are going to smoke. That magic cig occurs somewhere in the the first 2-3 years that a person smokes. That magic cig is the one that changes you from a social smoker to a full on smoker. After the magic smoke now you start to feel withdrawals every 2 hours without a smoke. It does not mean advertising doesn’t work. It means that nicotine works better.

pfrn 09.02.11 at 9:14 am

Smoking is like any other addiction and before you can stop you MUST really want to and be willing to change your lifestyle to do it. As a former smoker, one year smoke free now, I know how hard it is and made numerous attempts, albeit halfhearted ones to quit, then I just did. I was ready…All the warning labels and deterrents to smoking will not work until the smoker is ready. As a medical professional I am well aware of the dangers, but it didn’t matter. I wanted my cigarette!! Nicotine is like any other addictive drug and it takes sometime for it to lose its hold on you. Even now I am still faced with craving every now and then.

beth 09.02.11 at 6:13 pm

Funny I should run across this right after my boyfriend broke up with me. So, here’s the thing. Apparently, he quit smoking while we were dating, and then at the point he’d decided to give up on ‘us,’ he started right back up again. That tells me, if someone wants to not smoke bad enough, they can, and over 6 months later, they can start back up again if it’s not for themselves.


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