Thursday, July 7, 2011

Warning Signs

Recently, the US Food and Drug Administration mandated new warning labels on cigarette packages.

They’re seriously in your face, those labels.

The nine warning labels now required by federal law take up about half the cigarette pack, both on the front and back, and include images of a dissected corpse, diseased lungs ruined by smoking, a dying man in an oxygen mask, and images of rotten teeth and gums. The warnings must also appear in cigarette advertisements and must take up at least 20% of each ad.

The FDA estimates that in 2013 the new labels will cut the number of cigarette smokers by about a quarter of a million (Ironically, doing nothing will also reduce the number of smokers per anum by about 200,000, but I digress), followed by smaller reductions each subsequent year as people get used to the grisly images.

A number of folks wrote to ask what I thought.


I think it’s an exercise in futility.

As a former smoker myself, I predict that the new warnings won’t make any difference whatsoever. Period.

Oh, the new labels might scare away a few of the sissies, but there isn’t a smoker anywhere these days who doesn’t know what cigarettes are doing to their health – and they smoke anyway.

The new warnings will do absolutely nothing to reduce the number of smokers.

If you think otherwise, you’re probably smoking something other than tobacco.

You could mandate that all cigarette manufacturers dip their tobacco leaves in liquefied feces made from cows fed a steady diet of bean burritos and plutonium, roll the butts in a warty vellum made directly from Hitler’s enormous purple scrotum, cover each package with the toxic venom excreted by menstruating poison arrow frogs and a metal plate that delivers painful electric shocks, and include a picture on the label of Satan punching a baby in the face, and people would still buy them. And in fact, when I lived in Europe I used to buy Spanish Ducatto cigarettes that I’m pretty sure were made using this exact method – well, at least the cow shit part anyway.

Corpses on the label? Blackened diseased lung tissue? Rotten teeth.

Booga booga.

These things are supposed to scare smokers and/or potential smokers?

You’re kidding me, right?

One of the top grossing movies of recent note was a stomach churning gore-fest called Saw – and if that wasn’t enough for you there was The Human Centipede – the top news story this year was about a women who allegedly murdered her two year old daughter which also included daily pictures of the dead kid’s gruesome autopsy brought to you in full HD and brilliant color courtesy of Nancy Grace and CNN, and for the last decade we’ve watched an endless stream of death and destruction from multiple warzones across the planet with people cheering like they’re at a tractor pull. You think a picture of a corpse is going to stop people from smoking?

Don’t be silly.

Compared to the bloody red images blasting from our TV sets every minute of every day, death by cancer looks positively life-affirming.

Give me a pack of non-filtered Coffin Nail Ultra Gold 100’s, my good man, and hurry it up, I’d like to enjoy a delicious smoke before cholesterol, terrorists, gang violence, global warming, Wall Street, or radiation from burning Japanese power plants kills me!

Honestly, who the hell are these labels aimed at?

Because it sure as hell isn’t smokers.

Talk about not understanding your target audience. Smokers don’t care about their health, or else they wouldn’t be smokers in the first place. They don’t need gory pictures to tell them about the consequences of smoking, they can feel it gnawing away inside their pleural cavity like the chest-burster from Alien. They just don’t care.

The only people these dumb labels will impress are non-smokers.

You want a warning label that actually gets smokers to quit?

Put a picture of two naked gay guys kissing on each pack. 

Then, just for fun, make each cigarette look like a little penis.

Huh? Huh? Brilliant, right? Thank you, thank you very much. Make sure they spell my name right on the Nobel Prize.


What’s that?

Sure, of course you’re right, this wouldn’t work everywhere. But I’ll bet you good money that every Catholic Church, Muslim Mosque, Mormon Temple, country bar, and NASCAR track in America would be smoke-free within a week. 


You again? What now?

Oh, riiiight, side effects.  Yes, I suppose if you went with my idea you could expect a sudden increase in smoking related deaths among evangelical ministers and far right conservative senators.

So, really what you’re saying then is that there’s no down side.

I’m hip.

Of course, one size doesn’t fit all. You’ve got to know your target audience.

For example, say every pack of cigarettes sold in Minnesota came with the following label:

The Surgeon General says:

Be like Barry, support Union tobacco growers!

Tell me the 102nd Bomber Division of the Bachman TEA Party wouldn’t be rabid anti-smokers within about five minutes.

And in the American Southwest:

Warning: Smoking has been linked to a belief in evolution and support for illegal immigration…


In the Midwest:

One dollar from the purchase of every pack goes to support our teachers!


Okay, now just hold on there, Buster, I hear you say in that raspy two-pack-a-day Joan Jett voice you use when you think I’m being one-sided, you’re talking about saving just conservatives!  What about liberals? How do we get them to stop smoking?


Warning: carbon emitted from burning cigarettes

is now the leading cause of global warming

Please think of the polar bears!



Okay, sure, but what kind of warning label do we put on cigarette packs to keep teenagers from picking up this filthy habit?








Whoops, sorry about that. I guess I should have warned you that was coming.  Whoa, you’re shaking like a leaf. You maybe wanna a Bieber to calm your nerves?



See how that works?


So anyway, logically, if we add warning labels to cigarettes, why shouldn’t we also add warnings to other things that are bad for you?

Say like Twitter?

Warning: Disappointed voters have determined that sending pictures of Mr Wiggly to random women you meet on the internet could ruin your political career and cause you to make this face:

Really, don’t. For all our sakes, just don’t.

Or say cellphones. Honestly, shouldn’t every cellphone come with the following warning?

Warning: the Federal Communications Commission has determined that talking on this device while driving 40MPH in the fast lane could very likely result in a severe beating, having this phone wrapped in barbed wire, set to vibrate, and inserted into one of your more sensitive orifices.  Fucker.

Children.  Really, all children should come with a warning label, as a caution to single people and newlyweds:

Warning: Bill Cosby wasn’t a comedian, he was a prophet.  Children smell bad, they break stuff, and they cost a shitload of money. Also, you’ll never have sex again. Ever. Get a dog. Trust us.

Tanning Beds:

Warning: Your face, it will look just like this.


The TEA Party:

Warning: This guy will come to your house and drink you beer.

Then he’ll screw your wife… or son. Or both.


I know. I see you there in the back, rolling your little eyes. I hear your derisive snort, I know, you think I’m just being silly now.

You think I’m going too far with this warning label stuff, don’t you?

Really, nobody would be so stupid as to impose this nonsense on the public. Nobody

Because, you know, that would be just just crazy.


  1. I just shared you over on Google+.

    Maybe that didn't come out right.

    Um. Anyway. :) If you change your mind about the invite, let me know.

    w/v: multromb - the name of my back pain meds, which apparently suppress my inner censor better than they medicate my back.

  2. thank goodness your back...I was starting to have serious withdrawal symptoms...but to be fair, I believe stonekettle also comes with warning label...

  3. Great points (well except your cigarette label idea might cause more Gay people to smoke)! But the rest were pretty good, and I know, labels and warnings like they are doing won't do much. My mother, who is on oxigen (boy I know I spelled that wrong)...anyway, she was still smoking untill they put her in the hospital on oxygen(?) all the time!! Some peole won;t stop, no matter what you do. It is a shame but the truth!

  4. Psst: I think you meant pleural, not plural.

    Further: I disagree. I prefer to believe Hitler's ballsack was unusually tiny.

  5. I love laughing out loud first thing in the morning. Thank you.

  6. Hey, an update on that link at the bottom of your post: Governor Rick Perry has signed that damn bill, and it's now the law in Texas.

    BTW, I live in Texas and vote against Perry, John Cornyn and all the other GOP bastards every chance I get. It's a thankless job, but as long as those slimy bastards keep running, I'm going to vote against them.

    I love ya, Man. Keep up the great writing. You are a breath of fresh air in a stinking, nasty, and fetid political environment.

  7. One more thing...I participated in the care of a very much loved relative dying of emphysema over a three-year decline in health. He STILL smoked up until the last few months by disconnecting from the oxygen tank that helped him breathe otherwise. And, he lost a lot of weight since it takes oxygen to help process the food you eat, so, rather than suffer with even LESS air to breathe, he just stopped eating much of anything. Getting someone like him, a WWII vet, off cigs just didn't work at all. To his dying day...

  8. Personally, I'm thankful for the new labels. Now, when some random asswipe on the street yells at me for smoking, I'll just shove the pack in his face (sorta like a cross for a vampire), and tell him to get the fuck away from me.

    Should work like a charm!

  9. See, Nathan, I was thinking kids could collect all the different kinds. Like playing cards. You know.

  10. Laugh out loud AND pee your pants funny!

  11. You are so right.

    For the last two years I've been telling my niece she shouldn't smoke because of the preponderance of high blood pressure in the family. Nothing.

    Finally, I held up a photo of her ex with his mother.
    I asked her if she really wanted these people to raise her child after she blew out her lungs . . .

    Real scare tactics are the personal ones.

  12. Actually, yes, the warnings *are* aimed at non-smokers. The notion is that younger people seeing those nasty pictures will decide they don't want to have black teeth and lungs like tar, and not take up the nasty habit.

    Of course, we're talking about the same young people who don't fasten their seat belt when they hop into a 300 horsepower sports car, drink fifteen beers, then drive at 100mph the wrong way down the freeway under the delusion that they're young and invincible and will live forever so why not, then are utterly surprised when upon hitting a bridge pylon they are launched 300 feet into the air to smash their skull like a pumpkin against a nearby tree and thereafter meet St. Peter in person. Yeah, pictures of black rotten teeth will *really* convince these kids, yo!

    - Badtux the Snarky Penguin

  13. Thank God (or whichever Deity, Idol, ATM or Policitian you pray to) you're back! I was going through serious withdrawals. Cranky, irritable, obnoxious-wait, that's how I usually am! When the new cigarette packaging was issued, I figured it was a waste of time and money. I never paid any attention to the box, just what was inside of it. I wish i had every dime I blew on booze and cigs. My new house would be paid off.
    Hope the fishing was successful.

    wv-"vagies"-do I really have to explain this?

  14. Justin Beiber -- the horror, the horror. You are cruel, just cruel. LOL. Great post.

  15. VictoriaJ, that's brutal, but if it was effective, then it was worth it. What a lot of people don't realize is that nicotine is one of the most addictive substances known to man, leading heroin, cocaine, alcohol, caffeine and Marijuana (http://drugwarfacts.org/cms/?q=node/28). I’ve heard that crack cocaine is as addictive, but it’s not on the list. I too am an ex-smoker, I quit in September 1998 after smoking for about 13 years and it was the hardest thing I’d ever done in my live up to that point. As long as people are free to make their own choice, some will always choose poorly. The problem with nicotine is that many just want to “try” it and end up addicted for years before they kick the habit again. I agree that the stupid warnings are completely ineffective. What finally convinced me to quit had nothing to do with health issues, although it should have. What finally convinced me to quit was the price. The tax increases finally convinced me that I had better things to do with my money than to supply the state with more money to print warnings.

  16. You are so funny. Love this.

  17. Stopped smoking the last Friday in October of 1974.

    Ex-wife has since made the comment that doing this during her first trimester was not a good idea.

    Ex wife was also launched into full blown bi-polar at the same time, but has been on medication for 20 years and is mostly sane (her words not mine).

  18. When I was a junior in high school we were forced to watch a picture of a totally gross lung cancer operation in living color, and at the end they told us the guy died anyway. It was completely disgusting.
    I didn't stop smoking for another 17 years.
    What got me to stop was vanity. I was dating a plastic surgeon and we were having dinner with a colleague and his wife. They were talking about sun being the #1 cause of aging in skin and hair. They went on to say that smoking was # 1.5. So, I quit smoking. I have great hair and tanned skin. [Vitamin D from the sun, my excuse and I am sticking to it!]
    P.S. That is a true story I put the pack down the next morning and never looked back. Vanity is a major motivator.

  19. I would be rolling on the floor laughing, but I've already thrown my back out once this week. Read this aloud to my gf, and even without the pictures she snorted soda out of her nose.

  20. @Rangersmom. Also a true story. My boss (back in the day when I was working) had gotten frustrated at all the wrinkles she was getting and went to a plastic surgeon for a face lift. He told her it would be no problem. Then he asked if she smoked. When she told him she did, he told her that he wouldn't do the procedure because she would be back to him in two years for another lift. After thinking about it for a day or so, she decided to quit and did so. The face lift held up for almost 10 years. :-)

  21. @Dana Teel said:
    As long as people are free to make their own choice, some will always choose poorly.
    The implication being what? That you, or I, or maybe Jim should be making those hard choices for them?
    You're making me a little uncomfortable here.

  22. @beachdog67, not suggesting anything of the sort. If I wished to say that I would have. Like states without helmet laws, some folks will choose to ride without a helmet. I'm all about free choice, just don't come crying to me when your head is smashed in. It wasn't all that long ago that folks were suing the tobacco companies saying that their product gave them cancer. Imagine that. You want to know what I think? I think people will do whatever they want regardless of the law. That's what experience has taught me. Labels on the side of packs of cigarettes are almost humorous in light of that.

  23. Jim, you know that those lazy-ass fed gov't employees at FDA are just doing this so that they look like they're actually earning their overblown salaries, right? Or it's because they can't get jobs in real industries or companies, so they do it to "get back" at real hard-working Americans. Right? RIGHT?

    (Damn, I just crack myself up.)

  24. Can you imagine the warning label on a Japanese motorcycle? It would be bigger than the bike.

    A life-sized CGA graphic of your very-own-self realistically depicted wearing a t-shirt, short, flip-flops and missing half your skin with you back twisted at an unnatural angle. Towed behind your motorbike on a 4x8 billboard trailer.

    Reality is that teens are bleeping idiots and we only don't keep them on leashes because nobody could stand the constant whining. They will do any dumb shit that you tell them not to do just to be perverse.

    I have two teen daughters.

  25. Ya know, some of you people commenting on this site need to issue spew alerts with those comments!! It's getting very hard to keep the screen clear for the next comment when I'm too busy cleaning from the last one!!

    W/V: surds - what I need to get that screen wiped clean.

  26. Illanoy Girl - Rule number 1 here at SKS -

    Do NOT read Jim's latest post with whilest eating or drinking.

    But I think you may have figured that out!!

  27. I work in medicine.

    I tell patients "Smoke more, I need the job security."

    I tell their family members, "See you here soon, 'cause you're going to come down with something because she still smokes. Oh! What a cute baby! I'll be seeing plenty of her because she'll have more ear infections, more risks for asthma, and more risk for pneumonia than other kids."

    Yet, they still smoke.

  28. Agree, and your argument is wickedly delightful.

    Also, may I say, taking up space on your comment page, how much I detest public service campaigns with their misleading use of pseudo-stats on everything from drug "abuse," second-hand smoke, drinking and driving, teen smoking, self-destructive teens, and the generalized blaming of parents?

    One of my off-spring smokes, and according to those damned public service ads, it is because we didn't talk to him about smoking, we didn't care, and/or we set a bad example. Yet, he grew up in a nonsmoking home, none of our friends or nearby relatives smoked, no smoking was allowed in our home, he was well informed on the dangers (including about hard-wiring cravings into a developing brain), and smoking, along with most behaviors we good liberals thought we could educate out of those other poor ignorant souls, was practically a moral issue. Still, the boy started smoking with his friends and has been a nicotine addict since. He also still eats fast food even though it gives him a bad gut ache every time.

    The only thing those ad campaigns accomplish is to teach children their parents share childlike status with them, as those with more "authority" lecture us right along with lecturing them.

    In the 1970s, I started smoking later than did most of my friends and then smoked two-packs a day for seven years. For whatever reason, I've never been prone to physical addictions, so when I was pregnant with my first child I quit smoking overnight. It wasn't because I cared while other smokers didn't. It was just easy for me. The only thing I've ever missed about smoking is the ritual of it, and the ritual is part of the addiction for those addicted to the chemicals in cigarettes too. They suffer a double-whammy.

    It isn't true that most smokers don't care and that is why they continue smoking. Many do care but they are addicted and the tobacco companies made a point of lacing every cigarette with multiple powerful substances to increase the potential for quick addiction.

    My child cares now that he is old enough to start seeing glimmers of his own mortality and mature enough to acknowledge the physical symptoms accompanying his smoking, but the cravings are stronger than the will to quit, particularly when he is feeling stress. It is especially difficult to quit when surrounded by other smokers.

    Moralizing and scare tactics tend to piss off the young more than dissuade them. Just like I didn't believe Art Linkletter when, trying to cover up his daughter's suicide, he told us smoking dope would make us try to fly from the top of buildings, and such scare tactics merely made us mock and distrust our elders even more than we already did, engaging in much more dangerous behaviors as we discounted all warnings, today's youth are just as smart and stupid.

    Brain development does not complete until 25 to 27-years-old (up to 27 for males, most females 25 years). The last to develop interprets and controls impulse control, the ability to understand and accept long-term consequences, and so on. Expecting young people to wrap their brains around being older, sick, wrinkled, unable to breath, and deceased merely because we tell them it is a possibility is ridiculous and futile. They hear us and they can repeat what we tell them, but they do not truly understand and believe it as it applies to them personally.

    Two things I've learned too late is that personal motivation is the key to every choice all humans face but because people are diverse we are not motivated by the same things: rewards/punishments/incentives/fears/consequences; and one should never make any behavior or choice a moral issue if we do not want teens to do it!

    Pangolin is right on the money when it comes to many if not most teens-through-early 20-somethings, and funny too. (<:

  29. One thing you really need to keep in the forefront of your mind is that smokers are addicts, and addicts aren't free. Nobody sane and sober would go willingly into addiction, which is why the companies try to rope in teenagers so by the time they have rational adult minds they're hooked and it' too late.

    I escaped the easy way: I'm allergic. But I live in a country where pretty much all men smoke and there is as yet no sense that some people don't like it.

    Just remember, a smoker is a junkie.

  30. They already have packs with the diseased organ warnings in Australia.

    They don't work. (I don't smioke ut my brother does so know from experience)

    Now our Aussie govt is trying plain packaging - packs without any company logos or colours just the brand name on an unappealing olive green background. Very much doubt that'll work either although the tabaccoo companies screams of outrage and unrelenting campaigning against that measure has me wondering if I could be wrong about that!

    StevoR from Adelaide,South Australia.

  31. They have had these in Canada for years... 50% of packaging is now foul pictures. It started of 25%, then 33% and now half. Also, sickarettes are not allowed to be displayed in stores. They have to be in the back room or covered up. It has worked here. Smoking stats have gone way down. It's a multipronged approach along with education and taxation, and it does work. I am a former smoker too.


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