Have you seen the new warning labels for cigarettes that the FDA is rolling out? You can’t get any more graphic than some of these. They will go into effect next year.
I remember when the first warning labels on cigarettes came out in the 1960s. They were a rather mild statement of “Cigarettes may be hazardous to your health.” Then in the 1980s, the warning got upgraded to “Smoking can cause lung cancer, heart disease and other illnesses.” These warnings took up a tiny portion on each pack of cigarettes. You really had to look hard to see them.
Now the FDA has taken the warning labels to Def Con Level 5. First, these new warning labels are big – they take up the entire top half, both front and back – of each pack of cigarettes. And they are not just a written phrase. They are actual pictures of things like rotting teeth and gums, diseased lungs, smoke coming out of the tracheotomy of a man’s neck, and a sewn-up corpse of a smoker. You would have to be pretty dense to not get the message “Smoking will kill you.”
I am not opposed to trying to make sure people understand the dangers of smoking. But do you really think the majority of people don’t know that smoking is bad for them? I think our schools have worked pretty hard at delivering that message to kids. Talk to any young children about smoking and they will immediately repeat a mantra to you about its ill effects.
These new warning labels remind me of those films they used to make us watch in high school that showed all the graphic pictures of car wrecks, trying to convince us that we should not speed and drive like crazy people on the highways. Based on my experience, I don’t think they worked very well. Most teenagers – especially boys – think they are invincible, and we convinced ourselves that the dead people in the films probably were not as good a driver as we were.
Most people who still smoke are probably not going to be deterred by these warning labels. They are either physically addicted to cigarettes/nicotine, or they have convinced themselves that dying of cancer isn’t going to happen to them. Let’s be serious, if you are willing to pay the going rate for a pack of cigarettes (in New York City, it is around $11 a pack) you must really enjoy them or be hooked. And for full disclosure, I did smoke when I was in my 20s and the cost is what did me in – thank goodness.
I won’t hold my breath that these warning labels are going to work. But if it would deter just a few people, it is worth a try since it is estimated that smoking is the leading cause of preventable and premature death in the U.S. (one in every five deaths) and costs us around $200 billion annually in diminished productivity and medical costs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those are sobering and scary facts in themselves.