Technology

New Ways to Deter Smoking

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Wish fewer people smoked? Maybe it’s time for visual warnings on packages.

Cigarette packages should show graphic images of yellow teeth, blackened gums, protruding neck tumors and bleeding brains to alert smokers to their disease risks, the World Health Organization said on Friday.

WHO says 20 nations already use some form of visual warning and evidence suggests those graphic images deter smokers from smoking.

I don’t see why we need to stop there. I’m thinking full-sugared Cokes can come with pictures of legs amputated because of diabetes. Cars can have crash victims painted on their doors. Budweiser can come with photos of diseased livers or, you know, photos of a bunch of drunk people (who, let’s face it, are only attractive to other drunk people).

Absurdity aside, I do understand the public health hazard of cigarettes. But I’m am continuously amazed and amused by the lengths governments will go to try to stop people from buying and using a legal product. If smoking is so bad, why not criminalize it? Why try overbearing market manipulations when you can just outlaw the market altogether and claim a public health victory?

The answer, of course, is taxes. As long as governments use cigarettes as a source of revenue, outlawing the stuff would be a big financial blow. So you end up with a bizarre little balancing act where government’s will do all they can to dissuade people from using the product while simultaneously profiting from the use of that product. Frankly, if we’re willing to be so ambiguous in our public health values, we might as well legalize marijuana and begin enjoying the tax windfall.