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Picture this, Smokers!

June 2, 2009


A picture, they say, is worth a thousand words. But will an image of yellow teeth and blackened gums on a pack of cigarettes have a bigger impact than a written warning? Officials at the World Health Organization’s Tobacco Free Initiative think it will.


In a statement released on May 30, the eve of World No Tobacco Day, WHO officials called on governments to require cigarette manufacturers to “show the sickness and suffering caused by tobacco use” via graphic images of smoking-related illnesses. The hope is that this this anti-marketing strategy will drive home the link between tobacco and diseases such as lung cancer, heart disease and stroke. According to WHO . . .

Effective health warnings, especially those that include pictures, have been proven to motivate users to quit and to reduce the appeal of tobacco for those who are not yet addicted. Despite this fact, 9 out of 10 people live in countries that do not require warnings with pictures on tobacco packages.

Judging by the materials available on WHO’s Web site, the campaign relies largely on shock as a deterrent. The posters feature bleeding brains and children wearing oxygen masks. And if those imageswntd_2009_brain don’t provide enough oomph, you can check out “The Smokers Body,” a collage of human body parts that combines all smoking-related illnesses on one grotesque and deeply disturbing poster. 

(In case  you need more evidence that WHO is serious about getting smokers to quit, look no further than its hiring practices. In 2005, the organization decided to stop hiring people who use tobacco.) 

Images of smoking-related diseases are already being used in a few countries including Canada, Brazil and Thailand. But whether they work better than written warnings is up for debate. WHO says studies show they do, but even the disease-riddled “Smokers Body” seemed to have little impact on my boyfriend, who left to have a cigarette immediately after I showed him the image. He said the poster was “over the top” and then he wondered why WHO isn’t lobbying to put bloated livers on bottles of whiskey and legless diabetics on sugary treats.

Good question.

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