Tobacco News Editorial: Smoking Rights and Warning Signs

Tobacco News Editorial: Smoking Rights and Warning Signs

The act of smoking has been around for centuries. Long before your dad was choking down unfiltered Lucky Strikes and rolling them back up into his sleeve (which still looks totally badass), people had been combusting plant material and inhaling the resulting fumes. Smoking hookah (a traditional way to smoke molasses-covered tobacco from India) has seen an incredible resurgence of popularity in the 18 to 25 crowd for the last few years, cigarettes aren’t getting any less popular (nor will they for some time, most likely) and the world’s cigar producers will tell you that they’re not particularly concerned about defaulting on their yacht payments any time in the near future. Buddhist monks in Nepal have been perfecting marijuana-cultivating techniques for close to 5000 years, and they don’t just make hemp-products. Tobacco was (and still is) one of the southern staple-crops. In short, the activity of smoking isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Which would make one wonder why, then, is the Food and Drug Administration so vehement about the new cigarette packaging and how much “good” it’s going to do for Arizonans. The newest anti-smoking campaign to hit the streets will feature graphic and detailed pictures of lung cancer, tracheotomies, patients in breathing masks and other sensational images. The keyword here is sensational.  According to the FDA and their thick stacks of “official research,” these new scare tactics really work and will make most customers tear-up from gagging. To the FDA it is totally justified to show these images because:

“The evidence that warning labels work is solid and extensive. Research shows that large, pictorial warnings are effective in motivating smokers to quit, and the 1-800 number will direct smokers to the help they need to quit successfully.” — By Wayne Tormala, Bureau Chief Arizona Department of Health Service Bureau of Tobacco & Chronic Disease

I have first-hand experience with these warning labels. I first saw them on a photo-trip to Australia four years ago. I had a craving for a cigar, and Australia isn’t bound by embargoes with Cuba; my first real Cuban cigar was minutes from being lit up and burnt. Upon entering the tobacconists’, I noticed little pictures on nearly everything in the shop. Upon closer inspection, the pictures were of tongues, lungs and esophagi, all ruined by cancer and smoking.  I was blown away. I had no less urge to smoke, just less urge to buy stuff with graphic depictions of disease plastered on the front. I would say that’s a fairly rational response. Instead of walking out of the shop empty-handed, I tried to find cigarettes and cigars without the awful pictures on them. Needless to say I was annoyed, soon discovering that every product on every shelf had something disgusting posted on the front. I bought my “fine smokables” and promptly ripped off the warning labels, which somehow made the smoking that much more gratifying. I was in NO WAY deterred from purchasing my low-birth weight causing, cancer inducing, death-sticks. I was happy to finish the whole damn pack, and the cigar.

While my reaction may not be 100% typical, I can honestly say that I don’t think smokers will be meaningfully deterred. The pictures will be obnoxious and gross and will likely get more extreme with time (once the initial effort fails to work). It’s saddening to know that the FDA spends our tax money to annoy us and manipulate our decision making. In accordance with my previous articles, this campaign has shades of Orwell’s 1984 strung throughout. Watch out smokers, or soon it could be open-hunting-season on your rights and choices.

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