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Traumatize Smokers?

January 24, 2000



It seems almost anything goes in the campaign to keep youngsters from taking up smoking. The government of Canada plans to require graphic pictures of diseases linked to tobacco on the face of cigarette packs.

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The intention is to reverse a worrisome trend: Smoking among Canadians age 15 to 19 has steadily grown over the past decade from 21 percent to 28 percent, far above that for a similar age group in the United States.

Previous antismoking programs obviously haven't worked, and so now Canadian Health Minister Allan Rock wants to reach smokers and would-be smokers "directly and effectively."

Shock and horror are his methods of choice. That may work on some teens but leave others trying to popularize the images as something cool. Most teenagers are already aware of the health risks associated with smoking, but many contrarily choose to ignore them, perhaps thinking they can always quit and recover. Will sowing fear with tragic pictures get them to reconsider?

On that theory, we could cut traffic accidents if everyone's dashboard had pictures of accident victims. Or, to reduce house fires, maybe we can put images of burnt houses about the kitchen stove?

There are other options than searing pictures of disease into the memory of smokers - and others.

Massachusetts has led the way among US states in using a higher cigarette tax to buy advertising that instills concern, outrage, and, yes, some fear among smokers. But its ads don't evoke trauma like Canada's proposed images would.

Governments are wisely raising the heat on smokers and the tobacco industry. The US Congress, for instance, will take up legislation to put stronger warnings on cigarette packs - stating, among other things, that the product is addictive. Such a step would bring those warnings into line with the many antismoking messages already reaching youth.

Canada may want to substantially hike its tax on cigarettes. The tax was lowered a few years ago in an effort to stem smuggling of lower-priced cigarettes into the country. But research has shown that young smokers, particularly, cut back, or don't buy, when the price of cigarettes goes up.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society