Cigarette pack images are too lame to make people quit

If you’ve seen a pack of cigarettes in almost any foreign country, you know about the large, incredibly graphic images that accompany the morbid warning messages about the many ways cigarettes can ruin your health. Starting in 2012, you’ll be able to find similar images and messages on every pack of cigarettes sold in the U.S.

The Food and Drug Administration recently unveiled 36 proposals for the new labels. We’re less than impressed.

Some of the proposed images, which will cover at least half of the front and back of packs, are strange at best, funny at worst. One of them is a cartoonish image of a cigarette being held in the same way that a heroin user would hold a syringe, designed to make us realize that cigarettes are addictive. Another shows a white rectangle, meant to be a pack of cigarettes, and then an arrow pointing to another white shape with a rounded top and “RIP” emblazoned on it. The moral of this illustrated story? Smoking can kill you.

There is nothing funny about the potential health detriments of smoking cigarettes. There is also nothing wrong with the government attempting to reduce smoking rates among its citizens. But this new label program from the FDA seems to either go too far or not far enough.

At first glance, the proposed images seem like a cop-out. In other countries, images on the pack are extremely graphic and often revolting. They can actually startle purchasers and perhaps make them think twice before lighting up. But the FDA’s new labels seem to have succumbed to the worry of offending people. It’s as if the risk of making people uncomfortable matters more than sending a real message to consumers.

The new labels bring up a broader point about the effectiveness of such labels in general. For many years, cigarette packs sold in the U.S. had vague warnings from the Surgeon General such as “Cigarette smoke contains carbon monoxide.” The new labels are attempting to reach a more emotional chord with smokers to scare or guilt them into quitting.

The truth is, more than 45 million Americans smoke, and typically, they know the risks. These labels may be more worthwhile in a place where health awareness is lesser or nonexistent, but for the most part, people know smoking is bad. Something that may have a stronger effect on people is the fact that cigarette smoking is a huge financial burden. With the current state of the economy, people would likely be deterred from smoking when considering how their money is being spent. In New York City, someone who smokes three packs a week ends up spending more than $1,500 a year on cigarettes.

While cigarette packs will lose their aesthetically pleasing quality, the FDA is taking an ineffective stab at reducing the number of smokers in the U.S. Next thing we know, people are going to be trading these ridiculous cartons like Pokémon cards.


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