Putting images of rotting lungs and dead people on cigarette packages isn’t going to stop the 9 to 15-year-old set from starting to smoke cigarettes. It won’t work because their mortality is NOT yet a factor in their individual perceptions of reality.
Yes, they’ve reached a point in their self-awareness that they know that we ALL die at some point. But, to typical 12-year-olds who view 30-years-old as “almost” dead, their own deaths are a long way off. So, they’re going to give smoking a try.
Unfortunately, as always, the brother/sisterhood of smoking addiction will welcome about 30% of them into the ranks of the hopelessly addicted wherein nothing short of a direct threat to their lives will make them take a second look.
I began smoking at the age of 15-years (1955). It was a cool, adult–looking thing to do. My parents smoked. My grandparents smoked. So did ALL of my aunts, uncles, and neighbors. Even our family doctor smoked.
In fact, at the time, NINE out of TEN doctors (my stepfather was one of them) preferred Viceroys—at least that’s what they said on TV… all decked out in their official-looking white medical lab coats and all!
By the time I reached the age of 28-years, I had become a solid 3-pack-a-day smoker. And, like the rest of the smoking losers, I had convinced myself that I smoked because I enjoyed it and that I could quit ANYTIME. I. WANTED. TO. QUIT!
By then, I was spending over $600 a year on cigarettes. They were hitting the border of about $5 a carton (10-packs). Do the arithmetic. I was smoking a little over 3-packs a day.
I reeked of cigarette smoke. The insides of my forefinger and middle finger had turned a definite nicotine yellow hue. I had to scrub the smoking residue off the inside of my automobile windshield twice a week.
But, I continued smoking. “I enjoyed it;” I continuously reminded myself. And, besides, I was IN CONTROL and I could quit ANYTIME! I! WANTED! TO! QUIT!
My 40th birthday dawned in 1980 and with it I began noticing a bit of intermittent wheezing in my breathing as I lay in bed at night. I also noticed that it didn’t take a lot of exertion on my part to get me winded: a leisurely trek up a single flight of stairs seemed to do the trick.
But, STILL, I didn’t quit. I rationalized the wheezing as probably allergy-driven, along with occasional chest congestion—even though my medical history was completely devoid of allergies.
The fact was that I smoked because I enjoyed it! And, as always, I KNEW that I could quit ANYTIME! I! WANTED! TO! QUIT!
February 1983 arrived, along with my 43rd birthday. I decided it was time to quit smoking. But, it was not due to negative health messages printed on cigarette packages. Those would not start appearing for another year.
I quit—cold turkey from 3-plus packs-a-day—in February 1983. And, it wasn’t because I was afraid of dying, either. I had no such fear. It was because of the social embarrassment from other people asking, “Is that YOU doing all that wheezing?”
Add to this the additional social embarrassment from running out of breath as the result of walking from my car, across a parking lot to my office and having colleagues ask if I need to stop for a moment!
And, even though I could detect a slight odor of cigarette smoke residue in my own clothing—even after a dry-cleaning—it became unacceptable when OTHER people could detect it as well—and they TOLD me so!
If we adults don’t want the youth of this nation to begin smoking, then we have to stop emphasizing that smoking will kill them.
The scare tactics don’t work; and, they’ve never worked. It isn’t because the negative health affects aren’t real, but rather because the time span of discretion is too great for the average teenager to grasp.
Even though average 15-year-olds know they’re not going to live forever, by their perceptions of time, 30-years is pretty close. By the time that they’ve realized they’re in medical stress, they’re hooked. And, a little less than ONE in FOUR of them will NEVER stop smoking.
I stopped smoking in 1983. It was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done and that includes TWO combat tours in Vietnam, the deaths of my parents, witnessing, first-hand, the prolonged deaths, from lung cancer, of three other family members, and coming to grips with the fact that I was NOT going to be able to have sex with Sally Field (the Flying Nun).
Even though it’s been 27-years since I lit my last cigarette, I still get the occasional nudge to light-up. It’s just no longer an insurmountable urge.
Over the 56-years since I was 15-years old, smokers as a percentage of our population has dropped by about 80% to a little over ONE in FIVE people smoking today. And, I’ll bet the number of people who have stopped smoking because of health warnings on cigarette packs isn’t worth the time it would take to calculate it.
Let’s stop wasting financial resources on useless slogans, health scare tactics, and yucky images that no one will look at to begin with. Keep raising the tax rate on cigarettes and pump all that tax revenue into TV/radio/cell phone texting campaigns that diminish smoking to the status of a colossal social unacceptability.
Convincing teenagers that smoking will reduce them to social pariahs while taxing the hell out of cigarettes will get their attention in short order. Scare tactics using yucky images is a cosmetic smokescreen designed to look good while wasting both time and money. But they won’t stop teens from lighting up for the first time.
They wouldn’t even scare ME. Hell, at my age of 71-years, even knowing that an uninhibited carnal romp with Sally Field could easily kill me, it would not stop me from trying because I simply would NOT consider a fatal heart attack too high a price to pay.
Very few things terrify teenagers. Their own mortality doesn’t because, other than accidents, mortality is for old people. But having their peers view them as social outcasts gets their attention.
The other day, I stood behind a 30-something young man as he—with a noticeable degree of apology—asked for a pack of Marlboros.
The interesting thing about the transaction was that he made sure that all of us in line behind him understood that he was buying them for SOMEONE else.
There seems to be a lot more of that going around nowadays. Perhaps we’re getting there. But, it’s not because of scare slogans and images of rotting lungs!
Joe Walther is a freelance writer and publisher of The True Facts. You may comment on his column by clicking here.