6/29/2011

When I am King: Warning: Smoking is Gross

When I am King...

Anti-smoking campaigns will be more effective.

Once again, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me alerted me to the critical news of the week. I rely on the podcast of that show for all of my information about current events, this time about
the new warning labels required on cigarette cartons. Apparently, the government, not satisfied with pithy quips like, “Can cause birth defects” and, “Has been known to cause cancer in just about every living organism” decided that it was time to make the message clearer, going for a more folksy, “You Will Die” message in the new labels.

I applaud their intent: every smoker is obviously so happy with their life choices that they need these little reminders of their impending doom. In fact, I’m jealous of the fun they get to have with every new pack, wondering what the picture and caption will be. The prizes and games on our cereal boxes pale in comparison.

But I disagree with their approach to the problem. It simply won’t work for this reason: everyone that would quit the habit because it can kill them already has (either by choice or by death). Everyone that’s left is either not getting the obvious message or just doesn’t give a damn. Making the labels more graphic will just stiffen their resolve like a toddler being asked to please not throw a tantrum in front of the nice lady from Child Protective Services.

Now you not only have a society full of smokers, but one full of grossed-out, pissed-off smokers.

The problem has always been in the messaging. Telling people that they might die eventually because of it, or that others have died from it doesn’t hold a smoking candle to the allure of teenage rebellion. And it doesn’t do much for the person weighing that risk against the difficulties of quitting an addiction.

When I am King, there will be a more effective marketing campaign to get smokers to quit. The ads will just point out other people in your chosen community. Parents who smoke will be shown that their kids are smoking, and teenagers will learn that their parents smoke. Both groups, horrified by the prospect of being lumped in with the other, will finally have some real motivation to quit.

One other approach the FDA could try is to make the labels as frank as possible, like “This cigarette will kill you,” and then backing up the threat by lacing it with poison. Not only will this be truth in advertising and an excellent disincentive to others that see the warning, but it will also reduce the smoking population, one by one. I’m not actually arguing for that approach, just saying that it would work better than the ones taken so far. But perhaps killing the target demographic is not what the marketing folks had in mind.
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