I came of age at a time when cigarettes, while assuredly contraband, were not all that difficult to get your hands on. If your parents didn’t smoke, then there usually was a cigarette machine, or an unscrupulous convenience store vendor, ready to dispense with a cellophane-wrapped pack of “lung darts” (as I used to call them). Around the time when cigarettes became appealing to my generation (in the mid-80s) the U.S. government began requiring tobacco companies to start putting warning labels on cigarettes with verbal warnings in very small print warning individuals who are pregnant to quit smoking, among other things. These warnings were somewhat conspicuous, but very easy to overlook. Soon thereafter, the warnings began including the graphic image of skull and crossbones, which to the mind of many teenagers just made smoking all the more badass. Sure some teens read the labels (see below) and were maybe a bit alarmed for all of the 4 seconds it took to unwrap the plastic and liberate the first cigarette, but for most kids putting a skull and crossbones on anything just makes it all the more appealing.
Jump ahead some 25 years and, while cigarette usage among teens has lessened, young people are still smoking (even with more restrictions on the purchase of cigarettes and the near $10 price per pack). Granted the warning labels were not put in place to just deter teens and young smokers, but they do make up the bulk of new smokers – the ones who basically keep the tobacco industry viable. Now the FDA (now in charge of regulating tobacco products) is revamping its fairly dated skull and crossbones anti-smoking campaign with new graphic images that make the point that smoking is awfully bad for you, in an especially startling way.
Starting in September, the FDA will be releasing 9 warning labels of the most graphic variety to take a decidedly more aggressive stand on informing potential users of tobacco on the very real dangers of habitual use. Most of the images (I did everyone the favor of not posting them for all to look at, but you could view them here) are macabre and morbid involving rotting teeth, diseased lungs, and even a smoker’s corpse – all of which is intended to provide a very visceral form of dissuasion for those who think a skull and crossbones and/or cigarettes are kind of cool. Beginning this September, if you are a smoker should expect to see nine gruesome images across the top half of their cigarette packs providing a very graphic window into some of the possible outcomes of being a return customer. To be sure, the United States is hardly a pioneer in the category of gruesome tobacco warnings. Many other countries, including Canada, New Zealand, Uruguay and Brazil have been exposing customers to all sorts of dead fetuses and gangrenous limbs in an effort to make that smoke a little less tempting to all potential customers.
The obvious hope is that showing a bit of reality gore will provide a sufficient turn off to impressionable children and teens who miraculously still might think that smoking cigarettes is cool. But the big question is does it work? Cigarette smokers (although their numbers have dwindled over the last few decades to less than 20% of the population) are a devoted bunch and seemingly willing to endure all manner of humiliation and degredation to enjoy a smoke. This campaign will not likely sway too many habitual smokers, who have grown numb to the all to clear dangers of their habit, but will hopefully provide the necessary buzz kill for the 12 to 21 set who might just take up the habit for the hell of it.
What are your thoughts on the new warning labels? Are they effective or just plainly to graphic? Would something like this discourage you from buying something that is evidently bad for you? Do you feel teens are impacted by this sort of anti-marketing?