Support stop smoking shock tactics

By Sophia Coleman

Images of blackened lungs, oxygen masks and caskets could be replacing your beloved Joe Camel, Marlboro or Pall Mall logos next year.

In a further effort to save smokers’ health, the Food and Drug Administration has plans to implement a new strategy to people to drop their smoking jones. Nine graphic warnings would be placed on cigarette packs to deter smokers from continuing their killer habit. Some of these images are rotten teeth, a cadaver with staples up its torso and a man exhaling cigarette smoke through a hole in his throat.

The images would be introduced in September 2012, and would be the first change on U.S. cigarette warning labels in 25 years. But on Nov. 7, U.S. District Judge Richard Leon sided with tobacco companies and granted a temporary injunction on the new labels.

Tobacco companies, who sued the FDA in August 2011, complained that putting these grotesque labels on cigarettes will cost millions and amounts to a form of government-driven advocacy.

Leon said tobacco companies would likely prevail in their lawsuit challenging the requirement as unconstitutional because it violates their First Amendment rights.

Apparently, adhering to the rights of corporations that kill approximately 400,000 people per year in the U.S. is more important than showing people the ultimate truth. Yes, smokers realize that what they are doing will shorten their lives, but they argue that there are many elements in life that can kill you, so why stop? I have plenty of answers: It’s unattractive, it makes your breath reek, it harms others, it makes your teeth and nails yellow and—oh yes—it may guarantee you a slow and painful death.

In the case of the FDA vs. tobacco companies, a picture is worth a thousand words. A 2009 study by the World Health Organization in Canada and Brazil, which during a span of nine months gave smokers the graphically labeled packs, showed an increase in smoker awareness and willingness to quit.

Of 633 Canadian smokers surveyed after new, large pictorial warnings were introduced, 58 percent said the pictures had made them think more about the health effects of smoking, and 44 percent said the new warnings increased their motivation to quit smoking.

A total of 28 countries have required graphic labeling on cigarette packs, including Canada in 2001 and the United Kingdom in 2008. The U.S. has yet to follow, and I have a feeling corporate greed has something to do with it. Since when has the 1 percent, who are inevitably behind the tobacco companies, cared about the health of the 99 percent?

The use of graphic warnings will have a heavy impact on smokers, and even though all warnings lose their power over time, pictorial warnings have been shown to sustain their effects longer than text alone. Carrying around a pack of cigarettes with images of blackened lungs or dead bodies isn’t exactly appealing.

Granted, many smokers may be unaffected by the graphics, as few things are stronger than addiction, but I see no harm in making another, more impactful attempt to show smokers the harm they’re doing to their bodies.

Tobacco companies argue that if they have to place these new warnings on their packs, other harmful products should be required to do so. They suggested, for example, that Clorox bleach bottles should have to carry the label of dead fish and urge consumers to call a hotline that promotes the use of natural household products.

Newsflash: People don’t ingest bleach daily, and it does not have addictive qualities. I researched how many people bleach kills per year, and it has only been used in suicide attempts, according to the WHO website.

Then again, I guess smoking could be considered a slow suicide attempt. Yes, it is a form of stress relief, but there are plenty of other ways to combat anxiety. The graphic images on the packs could be that integral step that pushes some smokers to quit.

The mandate that the FDA has imposed upon tobacco companies is a step in the right direction, no matter how much it may harm the murderous industry. Tobacco companies are increasingly relying on their packaging to build brand loyalty and grab consumers. And because it’s one of few advertising levers left to them after the government curbed their presence in magazines, billboards and TV, the graphic labels could cost them millions in lost sales and increase packaging costs. If Leon’s ruling is appealed and the FDA wins, this could leave the tobacco industry on its last leg. Disgusting graphics are exactly what smokers need.