Disturbing images on cigarette packs may save lives

It won't be easy for smokers to see the devastation of tobacco, but it will move some to quit.


Everyone knows smoking kills.

Why then would anybody who isn't already hooked on nicotine smoke?

It's impossible to offer a rational explanation because those hooked on cigarettes act irrationally to begin with. It was likely an emotional decision.

Therefore, perhaps emotion could serve to kick the habit.

And that's exactly why the U.S. Food and Drug Administration made a wise decision in mandating cigarette packages have images that should shock some into quitting. This week the FDA revealed the nine disturbing images of what happens to tobacco users that will cover cigarette packages. The images include badly diseased lungs, tracheotomy holes, a cadaver and lips with open sores.

It's not pretty. It's very, very ugly and disturbing. It's also reality. There's no pretty side to smoking.

"The emotional reaction to a shocking image is more likely to make an impact on a decision to smoke. That's a consistent message from studies done in ... the U.S. and around the world," Maansi Bansal-Travers, a behavioral research scientist, told the Buffalo News.

Tobacco companies must change their labels by September 2012 under the mandate issued by the FDA. The disturbing pictures must appear on the top 50 percent of both the front and rear panels of each cigarette package and be accompanied by new warning statements, such as "Warning: Cigarettes are addictive" and "Warning: Cigarettes cause strokes and heart disease."

In addition, the FDA is requiring manufacturers to print a toll-free number - 1-800-QUIT-NOW - on the labels. This will connect callers to the quit smoking program for their state.

This is a critical step. Studies show that when people are prompted to change behavior because they have been shocked by an image, the opportunity to take positive action must be immediate.

"There is evidence that fear can motivate people when there is a specific action that they can take that will reduce their risk," said Dr. David Sobel, medical director for patient education and health promotion for Kaiser Permanente Northern California. "With smoking, there's a specific action people can take - they can stop."

Let's hope the FDA decisions prompts a lot of people to save their lives by quitting smoking.


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