Yesterday, the FDA posted new graphics mandated for all US cigarette packaging and advertising by October of next year. They represent the latest and by far most serious escalation in the Surgeon General’s battle against cigarette addiction. Two years ago, the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act forced cigarette packaging to include large type warning statements covering half of the front and back of each package, along with minor graphics on the sides. This newest mandate ups the ante from words to far more arresting graphics front and center: images like the sutured chest of a dead man, rotten teeth behind a cancerous lip lesion, and everyone’s favorite grim reaper party trick–smoking through a hole in your throat.
Depicting dead bodies and patients on ventilators represents a major step by U.S. health officials. Words can be ignored far more readily than images, particularly ones which at least initially, have the potential to sear themselves into your pre-frontal lobes.
The challenge of course, will be maintaining that shock value. Over time, even the most disturbing images lose their impact. And given the glacial pace of government bureaucracy, we can’t expect anyone will be updating these images frequently enough to keep our discomfort fresh and squeamish. That’s really too bad…
Because come to think of it, that would be a really interesting job description.