Can Gruesome Overcome Addiction? – A New Campaign Against Smoking

Pat Salber

First published 6/23/11 on The Doctor Weighs In

When I was in high school, we had to sit through movies showing the twisted carcasses of cars that had crashed head-on into each other combined with photos of smiling teens, now dead we were told,  all of whom hoped to have a wonderful life in the US of A if only they hadn’t chosen to (pick one:) drink and drive, get in the car with their friend that was drinking and driving, speed or otherwise violate the the rules of the road (etc., etc.)  I am not making light of this – it was and is an unbelievable tragedy when a youngster dies needlessly as a result of a car crash.

These “shock and awe” educational sessions were eventually discontinued because they didn’t work.  No matter how many gruesome photos we teens were shown, we kept on driving drunk and our friends kept on getting in the cars with the drunks and the speeders kept on speeding.

Eventually seat belts, air bags, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, highway patrol checkpoints, and changing norms regarding the acceptability of driving while impaired by subtstance helped to reduce morbidity and mortality due to teen/young adult car crashes.

Anti-smoking public health campaigns – of which I am a big fan – have become more and more aggressive over the past 10 or so years. Once we determined definitively that cigarettes were  linked to lung cancer and a number of other disorders, the federal government has been willing to put language on cigarette packages (“cigarette smoking may be harmful to your health) and state governments have variably been sponsoring public health campaigns to stop smoking.

Public policies, such as indoor smoking bans and public place smoking bans have made it increasingly difficult for smokers to find a safe, comfortable place to light up.   All of that has led to a decline in smoking rates from the 30-40% range to the ~ 20% range where it has been stuck for a number of years.  In order to jump start a further decline, the FDA has sponsored a new campaign, graphic photos meant to show existing and potential smokers the ugly consequences of their actions. These photos are on par with those graphic movies about car crashes I watched as a teen.

Let me show you what I mean. Here is a sampling of the graphics that the Department of Health and Human Services and the FDA are proposing appear on the cigarette packages:

“Addiction to Cigarettes”  – a guy with cancerous larynx removed still smoking –  see the smoke wafting out of his laryngectomy stoma? Eeeewwwuuu!

Just in case you can’t relate to a grizzled old guy smoking through his stoma, the FDA offers a photo that will appeal to all  (I think) – a baby having to breathe smoke filled air – “ooh, mom/dad, how can you do that to me???”

In case babies don’t move you, perhaps a dead body, one that has had his chest sawed open and then stapled shut can catch your attention…imagine paying $5 or so for a carton of ciggies with this lovely photo in full color emblazoned on the front:

Wanna look pretty? Or at least not disgusting….then don’t smoke:

And finally, if you respond better to positive message instead of scare tactics, the Feds have a photo to motivate you too:

Now, I must say I love this new campaign. I am a non-smoker (never smoker) living in California loving the smoke-free air that we breathe here everyday. I know that smokers and libertarians are likely to have a different view of this campaign (at least as long as they think they are healthy and disease free). I would love to hear from you. Is this a 2 thumbs up public health campaign??? or are you on the side of “live free (smoke) and die” crowd. Let me know one way or another.

Pat Salber MD MBA writes at The Doctor Weighs In.

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