Alan Rock's backing of new graphic warnings on cigarette packages raises the issue of whether images speak louder than words. The idea is that if slapping a warning label across 60 per cent of a cigarette pack doesn't shock people into realizing that smoking can harm or kill you, then slapping a picture of these effects on it just might. Aside from the image of a "droopy" cigarette accompanied by a warning that smoking can cause impotence (most guys would take a shallower drag after that one), this new anti-smoking propaganda will cause little more than a revolted scowl before the flick of the lighter and that first calming breath.
Rationale for this hunch lies in the motivations that lead to smoking, not in an ignorance of its harmful effects. People start and quit for undoubtedly much different reasons today than 30, or even 10, years ago. The dramatic increase in teenage smokers over the past few years should be a giant red, or should I say black, flag telling us that smoking has become a tool for rebellion and nonconformity.
Back in the day when our doctors, teachers and, God forbid, our politicians lit up without care in churches and hospital waiting rooms, the appeal was driven by an ever revolving band wagon. It was simply the thing to do, the natural predecessor to the morning cup of coffee and the fervent bout of sex.
Today, however, smoking says, "I don't care if I'm living under your roof, you can't control my life, and I won't take out the damn garbage." An altercation, no doubt, brought on by the anti-tobacco campaign.
In effect, the bigger and more graphic the warnings, the cooler cigarettes dangling effortlessly from the bottom lip become. By the time young people work through that ever-joyful, anti-everything-you-tell-me-to-do stage, the habit has ceased their daily routine and a good chunk of their health. The result is the epitome of so many of my own friends--a swarm of raspy, hacking, low-lung capacity twenty-something's who will likely spend the better part of their lives stressing over whether the Patch or Zyban is right for them.
Smokers are not bad or immoral people, despite a general consensus that smoking is the enemy and must be sucked out of our delicate little lives. They know that it's bad for them and those around them, but they do it anyway regardless of giant warning blurbs or the image of a diseased lung starring at them through the fog.
A strange hypocrisy seems to exist in our society where we band together in protest against all the nasty things that compromise our morality, our rights and our overall sense of wellbeing. Yet, with the same passion and vigor, we insist on creating and perpetuating such forces. There is no "us" (the moral and just) opposing "them" (the harmful and destructive). Rather, we battle ourselves in the fight between the freedom to choose our own fates and the good sense to preserve our health.
Perhaps we need a little masochism in our lives to remind us not to take our freedom for granted. This is why so many of us look right through the risks of smoking--lung cancer, pale skin and that writhing cardiac-arrest-like feeling after climbing three flights of stairs--to enjoy the refreshing sensation of smoke in our lungs. It feels good to turn our backs on the looming cloud of mortality from time to time. We mustn't forget, however, the mortality of those around us and that, in the end, the cloud will descend, perhaps a little quicker now, with the weight of cigarette smoke in its lining.