Get ready to see nine sensationalistic images depicting the dangers of smoking on cigarette packs beginning September 2012. Rotted lungs and teeth, chest holes, dead and grieving people are just a few of the lurid photos in living color that the Food and Drug Administration will require on packages. (I have deliberately suppressed the display of the ghoulish photos here to protect children and the more sensitive from these images and to avoid promoting the FDA’s overkill on warnings.)
The introduction of these warnings is expected to have a significant public health impact by decreasing the number of smokers, resulting in lives saved, increased life expectancy, and lower medical costs.
That approach, of course, assumes that smokers and others aren’t aware of the dangers of smoking, but that’s far from the case. Here are the results of a representative study of smokers’ knowledge of the hazards:
The average percentage of knowledge items correct for each disease category included cardiovascular (93%), pulmonary (94%), oral health diseases (89%), smoking-related cancers (71%), and reproductive risks (44%). Premature death was identified as a risk by 95% of smokers yet only 63.5% reported that disability could also result from smoking. Knowledge was associated with perceived risk of smoking-related illnesses across disease categories.
The medical hazards of cigarette smoking are well established and well known. In fact, they’re so well known that adults who smoke are justifiably viewed as willingly taking those risks. In a free society that respects individuals, that should end most political battles over smoking: let’s prohibit kids from lighting up, punish whoever sells or markets cigarettes to them… and let grown-ups live their lives as they please.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t quite worked out that way. Yes, adults can smoke, but they’re constantly bombarded by higher taxes, more restrictions on the products available to them, more limits on advertising, and more rules on where they can light up.
And soon they’ll be exposed to the lurid cigarette packs. Maybe they’ll become collectibles with the ghouls among us.