Death + Popular Culture Death + the Law

Toe Tags and Neck Holes


FDA Unveils Proposed Graphic Warning Labels for Cigarette Packs
Gardiner Harris, New York Times (November 10, 2010)

The war on tobacco has gotten just a bit splashier and “deathlier”. Graphic images designed to scare people straight will soon be gracing cigarette packaging by next summer. The images range from a corpse in a casket, a cadaver, toe-tagged feet, gravestones, a deathbed denizen and a guy blowing smoke out of a hole in his neck for good, visceral measure.

See the images here.

Graphic images on cigarette packs are nothing new. In Europe, graphic warnings such as these (and worse) have been in place for years. But now that the FDA has the authority to regulate the tobacco industry, they are going all out with introduction of a glitzy new shock and awe, “anti-advertising” campaign. On Wednesday, they unveiled 36 new warning labels, of which 9 will be chosen, to grace cigarette packaging across the U.S. However, the new effort ups the ante quite a bit from the rather sedate Surgeon General’s warning stating that “smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema and may complicate pregnancy.”

According to the NY Times,

Dr. Richard D. Hurt, director of the Nicotine Dependence Center at the Mayo Clinic, said he was hopeful the labels would save lives, though he said a higher federal tax and tougher workplace restrictions were also needed.

“The evidence is that graphic labels do make a difference in enticing smokers to stop smoking,” he said.

I say, you be the judge. Are cigarettes still the proverbial “nails in the coffin?” And if so, is showing a guy actually in a coffin enough to get you or others to quit smoking? The FDA is currently seeking public comment and so are we. We’re not blowing smoke—send us your thoughts!

3 replies on “Toe Tags and Neck Holes”

It seems that the warnings may actually make smokers have a more positive attitude about smoking, and lead to increased consumption. A psychological study has explored this. If you Google the title, you can find a PDF version for download:

“When the death makes you smoke: A terror management perspective on the effectiveness of cigarette on-pack warnings”

I find it very logical that “threats” about death in the distant future are ineffective. We all have to die, and some people may even have a greater fear of old age than of death itself.

In Denmark we have an idiom which can be translated as “death must have a cause”. The meaning is that you do not get a better life when you focus on avoiding risks.

More effective anti-smoking messages might be based on shorter-term issues like smokers being less attractive, or having reduced sexual performance. Or what about “Smoking may make you favor euthanasia”?

@tossomerfugle-thanks for the comment. You make a good point–threats about death–a nebulous future concept for most–may not be very effective. I tend to agree that packaging showing more immediate threats to one’s attractiveness are probably more effective. Packaging in Europe is much more gory and gross–showing horrible mouth cancers and whatnot.

I hadn’t heard of terror management theory, so thanks for that. I investigated the theory a bit further and found this article which explains it pretty clearly in case others want to delve into it.

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