It feels like everyone around here smokes. In fact only 26% of men and 23% of women in the United Kingdom are regular smokers, compared to 19% and 16% in Australia—and to 42% and 24% in developed countries and 48% and 12% worldwide. But there sure feels like a lot more smoke around than there is back home.
Part of the reason is that in England, at least, you can still smoke in any cafe, restaurant or pub. There might be a couple of non-smoking tables, but especially in winter these places are pretty airtight and there’s always a fog of smoke reaching almost to the floor. It takes some getting used to after Sydney, where smoking has been banned in restaurants since 2000 and is being whittled away in pubs ahead of a full ban next year—and plus where there’s a bit more fresh air generally. Scotland and Ireland have implemented their ban and England and Wales will go the same way in the middle of next year, so maybe everyone’s just smoking up a storm while they still can.
So I’m sitting in a cafe watching everyone happily smoking away and I notice that all the cigarette packets have those “SMOKING KILLS” warning labels on them. As you know, these and similar government-mandated frighteners have been getting more dire and widespread for many years now, and some have to be vastly more effective than others. The nasty colour photos of lungs and gangrene we have in Australia must work better than text alone; similar ones in Canada are said to have made a difference, and the UK is introducing its own “hard-hitting pictures” next year.
But I suspect that if pictures work it’s not really because they remind smokers what they’re doing to their bodies; it’s simply because they’re gross. Smoking is widely perceived as cool, and everyone knows that thumbing your nose at danger is also cool. That guy with a “SMOKING KILLS” pack feels good about taking it out and leaving it on the table. And it has to be the same with almost all the other warnings, no matter how detailed. The only one that I think stands a chance is the one that says “Smoking may reduce the blood flow and cause impotence”—you don’t see that one lying around nearly as much.
But if the warnings are going to work, they need to be even more direct—and more shameful—than that. They need to take away smoking’s cool, and they can’t be restricted to things science tells us are true: that’s never going to work. They should say, in big letters and on every panel, “I’VE GOT HERPES” or “MY ARSE IS ENORMOUS”. The National Health Service is on the right track with its “fags make girls ugly” and “~ boys impotent” campaigns (the latter pictured, and you can see a TV spot here), but these things need to be right there on the packs: “I’M A CRAP LAY” on the Virginia Slims and “I LIKE COCK” on the Marlboros. Photos shouldn’t be of stroke-affected brains but of running sores or even Goatse—then we’d be able to moblog anywhere.