The FDA issued nine new cigarette health warnings Tuesday. It has been 25 years since the last major change to the warnings on cigarette packaging and will be required beginning September 2012 on packaging and advertisements in the United States.
I can only imagine the cost of this campaign will be passed on to smokers sooner or later one way or another.
While I find these efforts as ridiculous as the actual warnings themselves, proponents feel they have to do something to warn people about the dangers of living. The last of the nine warnings on the FDA’s website reads: WARNING: Quitting smoking now greatly reduces serious risks to your health. It confused me and made wonder what else they might warn me about. Warning: Exercise may be greatly good for you. The other eight warnings are accompanied by graphic images designed to make the packaging as undesirable as possible.
In Thailand they put the same graphic images on cigarette packaging a decade ago and while the government, researchers, and anti-smoking activists claim it has helped in reducing the number of smokers there are people smoking everywhere in Thailand and in all other countries where these laws have been implemented.
A prevalence-based analysis of smoking in Thailand found that the smoking prevalence went from 16.9 percent to 15.3 percent between 2001 and 2006. This 1.6 percent drop may or may not be related to their packaging regulation in view that there was a 1.8 drop prior to the regulation between 1996 and 2001.
Among my smoking friends in Thailand who didn’t like the imagery, some resorted to buying covers (which hit the market simultaneously with the warnings) for their packs. But after the initial shock of the images wore off most people became desensitize and didn’t even notice them.
The higher cigarette prices that will inevitably accompany these new warnings will have to come from somewhere. The laws of economics dictate that there is an inverse relationship between prices and sales. The more something costs the less of it will be sold. However, with cigarettes there is addiction and perhaps an irresistible image of “cool” that thwarts the rules of economics.
A University of Wisconsin’s School of Medicine study found that in the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s largest city, nearly half of all adults are addicted to cigarettes, despite the fact that prices are nearing $9 a pack while many household incomes are below $15,000.
Smokers will cut back on something else, perhaps diapers or baby food, to keep buying their smokes. It may seem a good idea to warn, tax, and regulate smokers into quitting but the reality is that the ones who smoke more commonly, the poor, are the ones who are least likely to quit because of these measures.
My smoker friends in Thailand still smoke. The packaging with the gruesome pictures grew on them and eventually became a topic of conversation. Not as a serious deterrent might be discussed but rather as a joke about smoking being a slow suicide anyway. We all knew someone who had died from the various cancers and other ailments blamed on smoking but were not deterred by that either. We once stood, smoked, and talked at the funeral of a friend who died of a stroke. We don’t know what caused his stroke.
I don’t know what will get me to quit smoking other than my own desire to do it. The more I get badgered about it the more defiant I become; I’m probably not alone in this. So maybe we should let the people keep as much of their money as possible by not creating more of a burden with feel good “stop smoking” campaigns. Educate the children early and let those of us who have made the decision to smoke make the decision to quit on our own.