Friday, August 19, 2011

Tobacco Companies Are Whining

If you've been reading the news, you're probably aware that the old black-and-white text-only warning on cigarette packs was going to go away.  They would be replaced with "graphic" warnings mandated by the FDA.

The graphic warnings are pretty graphic indeed.  Big colorful photos comparing healthy lungs with diseased ones, smoker's teeth with non-smoker's, a "body" with the post-mortem Y-incision.

Some debate about that body.  It might just be an actor.

The interesting thing here is that the images that have to be displayed on the packs are huge.  They're fully half the entire front of the pack, with the remaining space below it being the brand.  I've never seen anything like it.  It's like there's a government mandated horror show that goes along with the purchase of cigarettes.

The old warning label didn't amount to much.  First it was the exact same warning every time, and I don't even remember what it was.  Not being a smoker, I don't have much experience to draw on here.  But in the 90s I found out that the label had changed, and in fact wasn't the same from one pack to another.  There were different messages, like advising you that stopping smoking had health benefits compared to continuing smoking, and the warnings had become more sternly worded.  Far from the old, dry language I associated with them, the new warnings with their novel changing messages, at least got people interested in them for a while.  They were a little like Chinese fortune cookies.

Maybe that should be misfortune cookies, considering the message.

Anyway!  These new labels aren't messages at all.  They're pictures, big bold ones.  They're right there at the top of the pack, in order to look at the flap and get the box open, you have to look at the message.  That's pretty arresting, having to open the mouth full of crusty yellowed teeth to get to your smokes.

Tobacco companies are complaining that the images they're now required to include on their packages are too much.  There's too little space left for their brand image, the body in the post-mortem picture is actually an actor.  The changing images on the face of the package will cost too much to implement.

As to the actor complaint, the famous Marlboro Man campaign resulted in a few of those actors dying at relatively young ages.  They took up pretty active anti-smoking campaigns at the ends of their lives; I'll bet any one of them would have signed on for this last modeling gig.  Even no less an icon than Yul Brynner, knowing he was dying of lung cancer, renounced smoking before he died, and wished out loud he could take it all back.

The tobacco companies, I hate to admit it, have a powerful point.  Car companies aren't required to splash their cars with a gallon of blood before leaving the factory to serve as a warning to those who might neglect to brake.  McDonald's doesn't have to stick a funhouse mirror to every door to show people, upon entering, what they might look like at 350lbs.

That last one's actually not a bad idea.

But you need a car to get to work.  Granted for thousands of years humans did just fine without cars, but that's not the way society is shaped anymore.  And there's no way around needing food.  It doesn't have to be McDonald's, but you need food.  You just do.  And these products, fast food and cars and myriad others aren't harmful in and of themselves.  They just aren't.  McDonald's food won't kill you if you moderate your intake.  Responsible driving is almost as safe as walking.

There is no safe way to smoke.  You aren't physically adapted to it - that's why the first time people suck on a lit cigarette, there's usually a fit of coughing, maybe retching.  That's the body trying to expel something bad.

Think about tobacco.  The plant produces nicotine in itself to ward off predation from bugs and animals.  It's not a perfect solution, there are bugs and animals that still eat it.  But it's not worthless either.  Do a great job of growing this plant up nice and tall, now cut it down and dry it out.  Shred it.  Stuff it into a paper tube.  Stuff a bit of insulation into one end of the paper tube.  Light the uninsulated end.  Now stick the unlit end of the paper tube in your mouth, and suck that smoke deep into your lungs.

You're paying for that privilege.  And it's not chicken feed either.  With current prices, each cancer stick cigarette costs about 20 cents.  Each cigarette is estimated to shorten the average smoker's life span by eleven minutes (disregarding the wasted minutes spent actually buying, lighting and smoking the things); a single pack costs about three and a half hours.  Four bucks, three and a half hours.  For thirty-two dollars saved, you could live another day.  More time, less cost.  I don't see a downside here.

So what have the tobacco companies offered to make the cigarettes less dangerous?  What are they printing on their packs that suggests alternatives to smoking?  They are very vocal about the infringement on their rights, but haven't supported their claim to the rights.  The rights are assumed, and that may be where the crux of the entire discussion lies: should anyone have a right to smoke, should anyone have a right to sell tobacco for smoking?  So far that question hasn't been raised and I may do it at a later date, but for the moment that's not where I'm going.  But there's plenty of ground there to cover, so that will probably be a lot of fun when we get to it.

I don't know whether the tobacco companies are still clinging to the "studies" they funded years ago that kept coming up inconclusive.  Of course they're inconclusive.  When the lab is funded by the very body it's holding up to the microscope, you can kiss its neutrality goodbye.  And even if they're not, again they have a haven in the form of the legality of their product.  No one has outlawed tobacco products yet.  No one has outlawed smoking yet.

I think the day is coming, though.  I'm looking forward to it, too.  I'm not even so jazzed about the potential absence of the smell of tobacco smoke - I'm more looking forward to never seeing another cigarette butt again.

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