The Common Good
September/October 2011

Does the Emphysema Come in Menthol?

by Ed Spivey Jr. | September/October 2011

Starting in 2013, every pack of cigarettes sold in the U.S. will include graphic images portraying the physical effects of smoking, although looking really cool when you're a ...

Starting in 2013, every pack of cigarettes sold in the U.S. will include graphic images portraying the physical effects of smoking, although looking really cool when you're a teenager won’t be one of them. I’ll probably get a first glimpse when I step outside the office for my daily dose of second-hand smoke, thoughtfully provided by the one remaining addict who has so far resisted my intense campaign against the practice.

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There used to be a group of smokers at the front entrance, working collaboratively to induct nonsmokers into their demographic of future emphysema sufferers. But after months of merciless debasement from me -- including once spraying air freshener into their midst -- they changed their self-destructive habits and are now living happy, smoke-free lives. Or they just moved around the corner. All but the one holdout, a stone-faced man of the muscular persuasion who, between mumbling to himself in a deep baritone and glancing around threateningly, seems more likely to crush me like a Marlboro hard pack than discuss his impact on the nation's health-care system.

I wonder if his attitude will change when he buys his first pack of cigarettes with the picture of a dead man on a morgue table, his bare chest crudely stitched up from neck to waist. He was presumably the victim of a lifetime of smoking, not to mention a hasty autopsy. (Either that, or somewhere there's a Home Depot manager trying to forget a chain-saw demonstration that could have gone better.)

The new labels will include close-up images of rotting teeth, unsightly cancer lesions, and decayed internal organs, as well as pictures of a woman dying of cancer, a guy smoking through a hole in his neck, and Michele Bachmann taking the oath of office. Okay, I made up the last one, although that would definitely make me stop smoking. And start drinking.

Unfortunately, the targets of these labels are mainly teenagers, who probably see worse images playing "Zombies Must Die" or some other gruesome game on their Nintendos when they’re supposed to be doing homework. (Parent, shouting up the stairs: "That doesn't sound like geometry up there!”"Kid: "It's biology. I'm ... dissecting.")

In fact, hideous pictures of dead people and body parts will more likely create a cool new collectibles market, kind of like baseball cards but without the boring statistics on the back.

"Dude, I'll give you my Old Guy in an Oxygen Mask for your Dead Guy with Stitches."

"No way, dude, unless you throw in Mouth with Horrible Teeth. I’m using it as my new profile picture on Facebook."

Let’s be honest here; there are better images to show teenagers the consequences of smoking. Like maybe a picture of a father flushing a young driver's car keys down the toilet. Or a mom dropping her teen’s cell phone into a food processor. Or two stern-faced parents texting "You're grounded."

If that doesn't work, maybe a message in large print that declares that parents will accompany their teenagers to every social event until after college. "It's okay," the small print underneath might add, "we can show your friends how to do 'The Electric Slide.' They'll think you’re the coolest kid in school!"

Parents moving to the beat on the dance floor. Now that’s a scary image.

Ed Spivey Jr. is art director of Sojourners.

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