I remember the first few times I bummed around Europe as a wannabe bohemian type in my twenties, and noticed how different things were from the United States.
From the food to the people, from public transportation to the type of night life--places like Germany, England and Holland for example, are always nice places to visit when you want to get an entirely different scene.
Probably one of the first differences I noticed during those trips was how looser the social scene seemed to be. People drank and smoked freely with little judgment or dirty looks, and both the health enthusiast and the tobacco enthusiast seemed to coexist quite harmoniously.
But although there seemed to be less judgment towards smokers in Europe, I also noticed how different some of the cigarette packaging was.
The cartons showed photos of what a lung looks like after years of smoking, or had the words “Smoking Kills” in big bold black letters across the box. It really caught my attention.
Well, U.S. consumers will now be seeing similar warnings on cigarette cartons, as a judge just ruled that tobacco companies have to come clean about how harmful cigarettes truly are.
This concludes a six-year battle between U.S. courts and cigarette makers after a judge ordered companies to put graphic warnings on cigarette boxes that covered at least 50 percent of the carton, just like cigarettes sold in Europe.
Judge Gladys Kessler, who presided over this case since 2006, said tobacco companies have done an extremely poor job of reminding people what the effects of smoking really are, while also doing a wonderful job of marketing cigarettes like they're not highly addictive.
Admit their lies
The ruling also says that companies must let the public know that deceptive advertising was used to lure them in, so consumers should soon see new ads from cigarette makers that suggest they've been dishonest.
But aside from the new ads that people will possibly see, having cigarette boxes pop up with graphic labels will definitely be a big visual change for consumers. Also, the new packaging could have an even bigger impact on future smokers, as younger generations will only know of cigarette cartons that contain such warnings.
Unless tobacco companies appeal the judge’s decision, cigarette cartons will show warnings like, “Smoking kills on average 1,200 Americans everyday,” “Nicotine is the addictive drug in tobacco,” “When you smoke, the nicotine actually changes the brain, that’s why quitting is so hard” and “Cigarette companies intentionally designed cigarettes with enough nicotine to create and sustain addiction.”
The warnings would be a much more specific statement than the warnings that are currently placed at the bottom of cartons.
In a previous appeal, tobacco companies said that such warnings violated their free speech.
But whatever the main reason was for cigarette companies putting up such a fight in court, Kessler said these warnings have to be put on boxes because they're factual, and for that reason alone consumers should be constantly reminded.
“By ensuring that consumers know that [cigarette makers] have misled the public in the past on the issue of secondhand smoke in addition to putting forth the fact that a scientific consensus on this subject exists, defendants will be less likely to attempt to argue in the future that such a consensus does not exist,” Kessler said.
Will it work?
But will these kinds of warnings really encourage people to stop smoking or not start smoking at all, or will the warnings have the same impact as the surgeon general warnings, which seems to be none?
In a recent study conducted by the University of South Carolina, researchers found that warnings placed on cigarette cartons can have a significant impact on consumers, namely graphic images that show what smoking cigarettes over long periods can actually do.
James Thrasher, professor at the university and lead author of the study, said photos register much better with consumers, compared to warnings that are just in writing.
“We found the more graphic the image, the more credible, relevant and effective smokers saw the warning,” he said. “Our study suggests that more graphic warnings would have a bigger impact on smoking than text warnings.”
“Smoking is highly concentrated among people with low levels of education and low income, and those groups are the ones that have the weakest response to text warnings," added Thrasher. "With pictures, you can increase their understanding of the risks of smoking in a way you can’t with text."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 45.3 million people are cigarette smokers in the United States, which equates to 19.3 percent of all adults. In addition, 21.5 percent of those smokers are men and 17.3 percent are women.
Cigarettes are also the No. 1 cause of preventable deaths, says the CDC.