NYC Uses Gross-Out Tactic to Curb Smoking

September 23, 2008 12:43 PM
by Emily Coakley
Governments around the world have been using graphic images to help people stop smoking. Soon, smokers in the Big Apple will see gruesome pictures on their matchbooks.

Gory Matchbooks

New York City’s health department is putting pictures of tumors, smokers’ lungs and decaying gums on matchbook covers, reports NY1 News. The matchbooks, which will be given to stores that sell cigarettes, are an effort to discourage smoking.

Sarah Perl, the city’s Assistant Commissioner for the Bureau of Tobacco Control, described the matchbooks for the New York Daily News.

“The front of it is black for stealth. Having it on the inside of the matchbook provides an element of surprise,” she said.

Background: Graphic pictures used worldwide

New York isn’t alone in turning to pictures for its public health campaign.

The European Union recommended their members start printing images four years ago, reported German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.

David Byrne, the union’s commissioner for health and consumer protection at the time, said, “People need to be shocked out of their complacency about tobacco. I make no apology for some of the pictures we are using.”

But not everyone adopted the suggestion. Sweden’s health minister in 2004 said, “I am sceptical towards the use of photos on cigarette packages and happy with the written warnings in place today,” according to Deutsche Welle.

It took until last year for the U.K. to roll out the photo campaign, reported the Telegraph.

Egypt started requiring graphic photos on cigarette packs this summer, USA Today reported. More than half of adult males smoke in Egypt, and it’s so ingrained in the culture that “patients sometimes light up in hospital rooms,” the newspaper said.

Brazil, Thailand and Jordan are among other countries that use pictures on cigarette packages, USA Today reported.

Opinion & Analysis: Becoming immune to the pictures; bullying a ‘minority’

Pictures first found their way onto cigarette packets in Canada, which started the campaign in 2001, reports Canada’s Star-Phoenix newspaper. But in a story published earlier this year, a poll suggested that the campaign had “grown stale.” The poll said 57 percent of Canadians weren’t affected by the graphic warnings, where 52 percent had said the same thing five years ago.

In 2003, “18 per cent of smokers and 25 per cent of potential quitters” said the campaign was “very effective at trying to get them to quit smoking,” compared to “14 percent of smokers and 20 percent of potential quitters” this year.

And the British campaign drew criticism from a pro-smoking lobbying group that said the government was using the campaign to beat up on a minority group.

“You could construct exactly the same argument for placing graphic images on bottles of alcohol, but because most people like to drink alcohol, the Government doesn’t want to offend the majority. The Government are bullying smokers simply because they can get away with it,” said Neil Rafferty, a spokesman for Forest, in an interview with the Telegraph.

Reference: Use the Web to kick the habit


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