Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Scared Smokeless

Will New Yorkers quit smoking if you frighten them?

If it looks grim, that’s because it’s meant to. And if you don’t like that one, the New York Health Department has several other yucky pictures you’re bound to dislike just as much.

That’s the idea, anyway. Whether or not it proves successful or even useful is another matter. Yesterday, the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene rolled out its new series of revolting matchbooks designed to help undercut tobacco industry marketing schemes. By focusing awareness on the graphic presentation of smoking’s worst effects, the campaign hopes to highlight the ugly side of the public health equation and reinforce this message by associating cigarettes with pictorial representations of gum disease, blackened lungs, and throat cancer.

“The tobacco industry spends $13 billion dollars each year promoting smoking by showing glamorous, healthful images,” the Health Department’s Sarah B. Perl said in a press release. “The reality of smoking is ugly and devastating. We hope these images will encourage New Yorkers to get the help they need to quit.”

Health officials are keying off several similar campaigns conducted in Canada, Australia, Brazil, Thailand, and other countries. However, in those countries, the grisly images have been placed directly on cigarette packs, rather than on matchbooks. Cigarettes sold in Canada must have warning labels that occupy at least 50% of the principal display space on the pack.

While inconspicuous text boxes with dire warnings have been mandatory on cigarette packs and other nicotine products for more than forty years in the U.S., the current warnings have not been updated since 1984, according to New York health officials.

According to the September 22 New York Times, the matchbooks will be distributed for free in the neighborhoods that have so far proven the most resistant to public anti-smoking campaigns—the heavy-smoking neighborhoods of East Harlem, the South Bronx, and Brooklyn.

In the Times article by Sewell Chan, Dr. Susan D. Karabin of the American Academy of Periodontology said: “These images are accurate: Smoking interferes with healing, with the immune system, and if you have periodontal disease—a chronic, low-grade infection—it exacerbates it, and makes the body less able to deal with that infection.” The result, said Karabin, is that smokers lose more teeth than non-smokers do. She supported the new “Eating You Alive” matchbook campaign: “Unfortunately, I think it does take scare tactics to get people to stop smoking.”

Graphic credit: NYC Health

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