In America, warning labels on cigarette packs are a continuing source of controversy. Most recently, the Food and Drug Administration had to retreat from requiring cigarette manufacturers to include graphic photos on cigarette packs after an appeals court found the mandatory labels violated the First Amendment.
The FDA photos were macabre, and included pictures of a corpse, diseased lungs, and a man with a tracheotomy puffing away with smoke coming from the hole in his throat. The FDA presumably thought the disgusting images would shock people into not buying cigarettes. In our culture, however, would the labels actually discourage anyone — or would smokers, would are already used to social exclusion and often seem to smoke to cultivate a rebel image, just try to collect all nine images? We’ll never know.
In Canada, where Russell (unfortunately) bought a pack of Camels yesterday, the approach is different. His pack included a picture of a smoker who has emphysema and now must breathe with the help of an oxygen tank, but it also . included a loose, wallet-sized card with a message (in both French and English, of course) from a smiling woman who successfully quit. She says quitting was hard, but she was ashamed of being a smoker and felt guilty about her habit. The first few days were tough, she concedes, but after she made it past the initial cravings she became more proud of herself and her will to quit got stronger.
I don’t know whether smoking labels make a difference. In America, the number of smokers has fallen, but there remains a solid core of smokers and it is popular with younger people — even after the health issues are described in brutal detail. I wonder if the Canadian approach, with the sad photo presented side-by-side with a positive story about quitting, is more likely to produce results.