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Friday, June 21, 2024
The independent student publication of The University at Buffalo, since 1950

Anti-smoking Pictures on Packs are a Good Idea

Discomfort is a sign of progress

Last year, a law enabled the United States Food and Drug Administration to regulate cigarettes and other tobacco products. Its latest project concerns including graphic images of cancer patients and corpses on cigarette packs in hopes that the revolting prospect of death will avert smokers from lighting up.

Several of the proposed 36 images depict post-chemo cancer patients in the throes of death or smoke curling out of a stoma-hole on a smoker's neck. Others portray dead bodies given to livor mortis in caskets and morgues.

It sounds much like an excerpt from the 2005 film Thank You For Smoking, in which a Vermont senator lobbies for a law that would require tobacco products to carry the image of a skull and crossbones. The idea was presented seriously by the inept congressman but rendered a joke in the film's context.

Indeed, it seems ridiculous to assume that people, especially smokers, do not know the risks of smoking cigarettes and/or that the surgeon general's warning is an insufficient red flag against the habit. Most people can read, and a picture seems like overkill to some.

But the American precautionary disclaimer is in tiny print on the side of the pack, where it can be easily overlooked and where it is well out of the way of the tobacco company's marketing. It only passively suggests that smoking may cause lung cancer or complications with childbirth.

For years, in Europe, the health code warnings have outsized the brand name on packs of cigarettes. It is not unusual, in a place like France, to see a pack of Marlboro Reds that sports a big sticker that says, in large black print, "Smoking Kills."

But these words seldom spook the average smoker, who heeds the same warning and dismisses it as old news. Pictures of the dire consequences from tobacco use are like miniature "Truth" commercials printed directly on the weapon of self-destruction.

The ethics of such a ploy are questionable, as many would not want an image of their dead or dying bodies to make a point on thousands of cigarette packs. But then again, many lung cancer patients want only to help others to stray from the decisions that lead to such a fate.

Though usually far from such a malignant end, children will understand sooner the dangers and long-term effects of cigarette smoking. Perhaps these pictures will lead the younger crowd of prospective smokers away from the trap of nicotine addiction despite peer pressure and the invincible aspect of "cool" involved with smoking.

It is problematic that non-smokers should have to bear witness to the same gruesome signs, but their comfort comes second to eliminating a health risk that contributes to hundreds of thousands of deaths each year. Perhaps their discomfort will serve as an additional moral incentive for smokers to quit: to rid their coffee tables and key baskets of the terrible boxes.


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