Packaging illness

The following story in The New York Times laments the delay in the U.S. of presenting images of diseased lungs, oral cancer, and other effects of smoking on cigarette packs: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/03/opinion/let-smokers-see-the-warning-they-need.html?emc=edit_th_20160603&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=44005038&_r=0

According to the author, the FDA’s release of these images and mandate that the images be displayed on tobacco products to offer a frank warning to consumers was met with legislation on the part of the tobacco industry. As with many battles caught up in the legal system, the industry has bought itself a good amount of time. Five years, at least.

As I read Cohen’s op-ed, I thought back to the packaging I saw on cigarettes when I visited Nepal in 2011. Images like those described by Cohen were already displayed on tobacco products there, an observation I made while standing in line at one of many small shops on the streets of Kathmandu.

Inside a cancer hospital in the ancient city of Bhaktupar, I noticed a similar trend. Lining the walls of the facility, where families venture with loved ones addressing cancer to seek the level of care they are able to afford (see my post on “Opening a Window on Cancer,” an article that I wrote about cancer care in Nepal), were informative posters presenting details about cancer causes, symptoms, and treatments. I was surprised by the graphic images shown on these documents, especially given the hesitancy in Nepalese culture to speak about cancer.

Cohen claims that more graphic images on tobacco packages have been shown to deter smoking among consumers, including among children who might think twice about starting if they are faced with the ugliness of tobacco’s physical and aesthetic effects. I have to wonder, though, how big a difference the images will make in individual behaviors.

While I agree with Cohen that the tobacco industry is getting away with murder–my words, not hers–I’m often amazed by the lack of effect quite graphic images have on the choices we Americans make. In fact, in some instances, as in widespread coverage of gun violence, the more graphic the image, the more desensitized we seem to become.

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