The New Graphic Warnings On Cigarette Packs Make Me Gag, But Not For The Reason You'd Think.

Josh Max
June 22, 2011

[youtubevid id="8sE5nRIFZqU"]

Why does the above campaign of fear bother me?

I'll tell you why.

We, the people, aren't stupid.  We know that a single butt isn't going to rot your teeth, give you emphysema, or send you to the morgue.

So when I see this:

 

And this:

 

I know I'm being conned.

Nobody suggests, "Limit yourself to a butt or two maybe once a week, on Friday, with a beer."  No one says, "Cut down."  No one acknowledges how sublime a cigarette can be, how compelling holding fire in your hands is, or how smoking will keep you from eating so you won't gain weight, if that's your worry. Hello?

No one says, either, "We understand why someone would want to smoke a cigarette. We understand that life is stressful, that a lot of people are in pain, that they want the pain to stop and they want to feel good even for a moment, so they drink and spend and gamble and eat and smoke and it can cause enormous problems even as it relaxes them or allows them to get through one more day, or night."

It's "Duck and cover" all over again.

I've been a working musician since I was 16, and saw, early on, that some musicians were using harmful substances, some of which caused some of them to die, and others to end up living in the street.  Such substances were, from time to time, offered to me.

But I always remembered the best anti-drug advice I ever got, from a recovered blues musician in 1989.

He said, "Josh, do not ever try heroin. Ever. You will love it. It's better than any feeling you will ever know in this world."

This coming from a man who lived on a roof in the East Village for awhile. The roof didn't scare me, neither did the track marks on his arms. What scared me was his honesty about how wonderful heroin was.

The FDA's  horror photos say, by contrast, "You're going to go from zero to emphysema."

"Your children will weep bitter tears if you so much as look at a pack of Marlboros."

"Be afraid. Be very afraid."

Fear makes people pay attention. Watch the news for a while and you'll see the same stories told the same way, day in and day out.

We're being conned in the same way we were conned into smoking in the first place - with images like these:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Different message, same machine.

Same people in a tower telling you to buy this or that idea or concept.

Why should we buy it?

"Because we say so," says the FDA.  "You're children, all of you, and we are going to make up your minds for you because you're obviously too dumb to make a choice. 'Give 'em the zipper chest! That'll convince 'em.'"

We all get it. Cigarettes are bad for you. Real bad. Over time, they can cause heart disease, cancer, emphysema, and they are one of the most difficult habits to break, so I hear, right up there with heroin. (Food's a bitch, too.)

I knew it when I was a kid, surrounded  by pipes, cigars, cigarettes and snuff in my house. I made my mother a ceramic hand with six fingers in the 6th grade, carving these words into its palm:

"The hand of death will get you if you don't stop smoking."

I was 12 and that was the only thing I could think of. It didn't work.

The FDA is 105 years old and they're using the same idea.

My older brother recently reminded me of the time Mom couldn't find her cigarettes and thought we three boys had hidden them from her.  Hours passed, her body cried out for nicotine and she got more and more furious, ranting and threatening, but we didn't give up their location because we hadn't swiped them . She had stashed them in the dryer herself to keep from being tempted, it turned out.

Such is the insanity of addiction.  If you haven't been there, you have absolutely no idea what it means.

Addiction doesn't respond to warnings, reason, threats or manipulation. It wants what it wants, now, consequences be damned. If addiction was a reasonable thing, thousands of people would walk up to the ATM machines in every major casino, look at the sticker that reads, "Gambling problem? Call Gamblers Anonymous at 1-888-424-3577" and say, "Nah, I don't need to win back that money I lost. I'll just call this number."

There is one more thing.

When someone brings up the subject of smoking, overeating, alcoholism or other addiction, the final word in the conversation always seems to be how much it costs us in insurance and hospital bills.  In other words, it's about the money in the end.  I never see anyone come out and say, "You know what?  I'm campaigning for this cause because I care about people." Instead of leading by example, inviting like-minded folks to join a smoke-free, healthy life, we get this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This woman may or may not be massively upset because she's just been told she's got a fatal lung disease due to secondhand smoke.  If she is, and a photographer snapped her at the exact moment a doctor told her the bad news, I apologize.

If, on the other hand, this is an actress hired to look upset and the FDA has slapped WARNING across the photo, I say "Horsefeathers to you and your scare tactics."

The question isn't whether cigs are bad for you, or me.

The question is whether or not a government-sponsored program akin to "Reefer Madness" is going to get people to quit or refrain from starting the habit.

If it works, it's ok by me.  I don't smoke and I don't like smoke.

But I also don't like the government going "BOO!" in my face, and I bet you don't, either.

Josh Max, Forbes.com contributor